June 20, 2013

Number of deficient bridges in Maine ranks high nationally

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine reduced its number of structurally deficient bridges by 8.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, but the state still ranks among the top 10 in the nation for the highest percentage of deficient bridges, according to a recent study.

click image to enlarge

The Route 1 bridge over the Kennebunk River on the Kennebunk and Arundel town line is one of over 350 'deficient' bridges in Maine.

Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The national safety advocacy group Transportation for America ranked Maine ninth among the 50 states with slightly more than one of every seven bridges classified as deficient by Federal Highway Administration standards.

That designation doesn't mean the span is unsafe, only that it needs significant repair or maintenance to remain in use.

Even though the state reduced the number of deficient bridges from the previous year, state transportation officials say the study just highlights the fact that funding is still lacking to get to all the bridges that need work.

"We're constantly inspecting and evaluating bridges so we can prioritize," said Maine Department of Transportation Spokesman Ted Talbot. "Each state has an aging infrastructure and our needs always exceed available funds."

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, used the study this week to push for increased funding. Michaud and other legislators have sponsored the SAFE Bridges Act, which would provide $2.75 billion to states for bridge repair in 2013 and 2014. The act would distribute funds among states through a needs-based formula based on each state's share of deficient bridges.

He also sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee this week requesting additional money for bridges in its transportation funding bill. Most bridge projects in Maine are funded through a 80-20 split between federal and state money.

"Maine has made strides like many other states, but more resources and attention need to be paid to our aging infrastructure," Michaud said in a prepared statement. "This is a safety and economic issue. We can't compete in a global economy if we allow our transportation networks to decay."

Two recent bridge collapses -- one on Interstate 5 in Washington state in May, the other on state Route 202 in Arizona earlier this week -- highlight the fragile state of the country's transportation infrastructure. The Washington state bridge was last inspected in November, and the inspection report noted that several parts of the bridge had already been been damaged from being hit by big rigs.

Maine has slightly more than 2,400 bridges, 356 of them classified as deficient last year. With 14.8 percent of its bridges deemed deficient, Maine was ahead of the national average of 11 percent, but well below Pennsylvania, which had the highest percentage of deficient bridges at 24.5 percent. Florida and Nevada had the lowest, with 2.2 percent of bridges classified as deficient.

Highway bridges have three primary components: the deck, the substructure and the superstructure. During inspections, each component is given a rating between 0 and 9. If any of the components is rated 4 or below, the bridge is classified as deficient. Federal law requires that states inspect all bridges that are at least 20 feet every two years. Maine inspects its bridges once a year, sometimes more frequently for deficient bridges, Talbot said.

If a bridge is deemed unsafe -- meaning that it could not support the average daily traffic -- immediate action is taken, with the span posted for lower weight, or closed. Talbot said no bridge in Maine is classified as unsafe.

The study's 2012 list of 356 deficient bridges in Maine is no longer up to date, since some bridges that were deemed deficient have been repaired or rehabilitated, while other bridges have been moved onto the list. Talbot said bridge inspectors submit regular reports to state engineers and then engineers decide which projects need immediate attention based on the funding available. Other considerations, including how heavily trafficked the bridge is, are factored into the decision as well.

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