Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

200 More N.J. Bridges Expected to Be Deficient

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

200 More N.J. Bridges Expected to Be Deficient

Article excerpt

An additional 200 state-owned bridges in New Jersey will become structurally deficient in the next five years, bringing the number of failing structures to nearly 500 and wiping away recent gains by the Transportation Department to reduce its long backlog of bridge repair projects, state officials said this week.

The bridges will be added to the list of 290 state-owned spans that already are defined as deficient, a designation that indicates one of a bridge's three main elements -- the deck, or the structural supports above and below the deck -- is failing and needs repair, Transportation Department officials said. It does not necessarily indicate a span is unsafe.

"With the aging infrastructure that we have, this is a problem that's not going to go away," said Steve Schapiro, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department.

The decline is inevitable, Schapiro said. The bridges will slide into deficiency whether or not New Jersey voters and elected leaders find new revenue next year for the state's transportation fund, which is nearly broke. Negotiations between lawmakers and Governor Christie to fix the fund, possibly by raising the gas tax, have ended for the year, Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox told The Record in March.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, on Tuesday echoed that, telling New Jersey Chamber of Commerce members that a gas tax increase was unlikely because of political concerns.

"With all 80 [Assembly] seats up for reelection, nobody wants to talk about a gas tax," he told a breakfast round table in Monroe.

News of more deficient bridges comes after three years of slow progress by the state to catch up on its maintenance backlog. In 2012 there were 330 state-owned and -maintained bridges that were defined as structurally deficient by the Transportation Department. Since then, that total has been whittled to 290.

But with aging bridges, rising traffic volumes and stagnant funding for maintenance, the state will soon begin to backslide, officials said. Newly deficient bridges that need emergency attention will get fixed immediately, Schapiro said. Otherwise, they'll simply be added to the bottom of the list of bridges that already need repair.

"If we had money, we'd be working on [bridges] that are already on the list," Schapiro said.

People who push for transportation improvements in the state said they were upset by the news, but not shocked. …

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