Bridges Troubled over U.S. Waters Analysis Shows 29% 'Deficient'

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- More than a quarter of the nation's bridges are too weak, dilapidated or overburdened for their current traffic, according to federal records that detail an American road system that hasn't kept pace with a booming economy.

Dramatic stories of spans with falling concrete or weak supports abound across the country, even though the government has spent billions on repairs over the last few years, an Associated Press computer analysis of the records found.

School buses in southwestern Alabama seeking to lower their weight used to have to stop at one end of a decaying bridge, let children off to walk across the span, and pick them up on the other side. Now, the buses drive 15 extra miles a day to avoid the bridge altogether.

"We said many times we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for letting that happen," said Sonny Brasfield, assistant executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

In Louisiana, a bridge over Thompsons Creek was hastily put back in place, not rebuilt, after floodwaters washed it away.

To compensate, officials put new limits on the weight of trucks crossing the span.

"It would not make any structural engineer comfortable to look at the thing," state engineer Gill Gautreau said.

And in Denver, softball-sized chunks of concrete routinely break off the Interstate 70 viaduct near the city's coliseum. "It's just falling apart," firefighter John Afshar said. "They clean up the mess pretty quickly."

The AP computer analysis of Federal Highway Administration records found 167,993 of 587,755 bridges -- or 29 percent -- were rated by the government as "deficient" as of Aug. 31, 2000.

That's a slight improvement from four years earlier when 31 percent of bridges were deemed deficient, defined as structures that either require repairs or are too narrow or weak to handle the traffic that must use the bridges to get from place to place. …