Bridge repair battles to keep up with bridge decline

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Capital News Service
LANSING — About one in 10 bridges in Michigan is in poor condition, according to the 2018 Michigan Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. But state transportation experts say there are not enough funds to keep up with needed repairs.
The overall grade for bridges in Michigan is C-minus, and about 1,234 out of the state’s 11,156 bridges are structurally deficient, according to the report.
The Department of Transportation (MDOT) upgraded 22 poor bridges last year and local road agencies upgraded 56, said Jeff Cranson, the department’s director of the office of communications.
The state spends between $100 million and $150 million a year on average to repair bridges, Cranson said.
But the state’s investment in maintaining its bridges’ structures hasn’t been enough for many years, said Ronald Brenke, the executive director of the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers.
“As you drive down the freeway, if you look carefully you’d see temporary support under a lot of our bridges,” Brenke said. “It’s obviously not a most efficient way to maintain a deficient bridge, but because we don’t have enough funding, we have to put in temporary measures to keep them open.”
Bridge safety concerns have returned to the public eye after a new pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed on March 15, killing six people.
But Michigan uses different processes for its bridge construction, meaning a similar situation is not likely in this state, experts said.
The Florida bridge was built by “accelerated bridge construction,” also known as ABC system, a technology that reduces onsite construction time and minimizes mobility impacts, said Osama Abudayyeh, a professor and chair of the Civil and Construction Engineering Department at Western Michigan University.
But MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said 95 percent of bridges in Michigan aren’t complex structures like the bridge in Florida.
“I don’t think that situation is necessarily happening in Michigan,” Abudayyeh said. “I think Michigan’s technique and procedure are very sound.”
The condition of bridges is rated on a nine-point National Bridge Inventory scale. A structurally deficient bridge is rated in “poor” condition (0 to 4 on that scale) of the deck, superstructure and substructure, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
“Bridges are inspected at a minimum of every 24 months,” said Matt Chynoweth, the director of MDOT’s Bureau of Bridges and Structures.
“We use the inspection data to determine bridges needing maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement,” Chynoweth said. “Ideally, we’d like to be performing maintenance on a bridge every eight to 10 years, based on the bridges’ condition.”
In terms of structurally deficient bridges, Chynoweth said that even though a bridge is identified in poor condition, “this does not imply a lack of safety of the bridge. Rather it is a condition that is managed by additional inspections or physical mitigation such as rehabilitation or replacement.”
“The term of ‘structurally deficient’ was a formula used by the Federal Highway Administration to help determine eligibility for federal bridge funding,” he said.
In 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $1.2 billion road funding package focused on improving the condition of the state’s roads and bridges. The five-year plan is scheduled to begin in 2019, according to the Snyder’s office.
But the anticipated funds will not be enough to catch up with Michigan’s infrastructure problems.
“Even if we have more money expected to come in, we would not see a huge improvement,” Brenke said. “A lot of bridges are maybe in fair condition right now that are going to slip into a poor condition in the same period of time.”
Local governments are also wrestling with insufficient funds in trying to keep bridges safe.
A bridge reconstruction project is underway in Mecosta County’s Fork Township on 20th Avenue just north of 19 Mile road over the Chippewa River, said Jon Firman, the engineering technician at the Mecosta County Road Commission. But the county is still seeking more money for additional projects.
“Michigan’s bridges are struggling,” Firman said.

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