Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The collapse of a bridge in Washington state last month prompted questions about the integrity of the United States’ aging transportation infrastructure.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, about 11 percent of 600,000 bridges in the United States are considered structurally deficient, including the 58-year-old Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Seattle. While bridges are aging at a rapid clip — the average age of deficient bridges across the country is 65 years old — dedicated federal funding for bridge rehabilitation was eliminated by Congress last year.
In New York state, all bridges are subject to every-other-year inspection by the state Department of Transportation. The agency claims that its bridge rating standards are among the most rigorous in the nation, well exceeding federal minimum standards.
The D.O.T.’s most recent ratings report on 270 bridges in Niagara County, published this past April, lists 19 bridges as structurally deficient, meaning one or more of their load-carrying elements is damaged, the bridges have inadequate load capacity or repeated flooding causes traffic delays.
Structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily “unsafe,” according to D.O.T., but they do need repairs or rehabilitation to return them to best shape. D.O.T. rates bridges on a scale of 1 to 7 and considers spans with a rating of 5 or more to be in good condition, and less than 5 to be deficient.
The average age of structurally deficient bridges in Niagara County is 64 years.
The oldest one, the state-owned Wruck Road bridge over the Erie Canal in Royalton, was built in 1910 — and was closed to traffic in 2007, on a finding that it’s unsafe for travel. Its condition rating as of last autumn was 3.39.
The youngest structurally deficient bridge is the Johnson Creek Road span over Mud Creek, constructed in 1983, in Hartland. While that town-owned bridge gets labeled “S.D.” by the state, it also received a condition rating of 5.19.
Countywide, another 50 bridges are labeled “functionally obsolete” because their design does not meet current standards for managing traffic volume. Lanes are narrow, shoulders are narrow or non-existent, clearances are low and the like. The F.O. label does not reflect structural integrity, D.O.T. said.
A couple of examples: While “obsolete,” the century-old Canal Road, Lockport, and Slayton Settlement Road, Gasport, bridges over the Erie Canal are rated 5.89 and 5.45 respectively.
In eastern Niagara County, six of 10 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges are owned by the county. Plans are in the works to repair most of them within five to 10 years, as federal transportation aid is secured, according to Michael F. Tracy, deputy commissioner of public works.
First up on the list is the Wilson-Burt Road bridge over Eighteenmile Creek in Newfane. This $4.2 million project, involving repair of all piers and abutments, recycling of steel and replacement of decking and sidewalks, is being design-engineered now and bid solicitation for the various parts of the job should get under way in December, according to Tracy. Eighty percent of the tab is being reimbursed by the federal government.
The county already invested $400,000 in the Wilson-Burt Road bridge, in 2008-09, to have one weakened pier shored up. D.O.T. had “red-flagged” the bridge, indicating it wasn’t safe for crossing, so it was closed until the pier was fixed.
At 350 feet across and about 40 feet above the creek, the Wilson-Burt bridge is “one of the most significant bridges in the county,” Tracy said.
Also labeled deficient or obsolete by the state are:
• The Lockport Road bridge over Bull Creek in Pendleton, rated 4.5. This bridge is actually two steel culverts, side-by-side, and it’s labeled S.D. due to rusting metal, Tracy said. The county has applied for federal aid to rehabilitate it.
• The Ewings Road bridge over Eighteenmile Creek just south of Newfane, rated 4.4 and F.O. for narrower-than-standard travel lanes. The county had secured funding to rehabilitate the 64-year-old span but decided the Carmen Road bridge over Golden Hill Creek should get worked on first. Ewings Road bridge rehab is thus pushed back about five years, Tracy said.
• The Carmen Road bridge over Golden Hill Creek, in Somerset, rated 5.17 and S.D. While the span’s condition is good, the deck is all wood and county engineers think it’s time the whole thing got replaced. Federal funding is obtained but the project timeline is still to be determined.
• The Hosmer Road bridge over Fish Creek in Somerset, rated 4.55 and S.D. This 86-year-old bridge is more obsolete than deficient due to its old-time construction, Tracy said. A past structural issue brought red-flagging by D.O.T., and now the bridge is subject to annual inspection.
Both the Hosmer Road bridge and the 1950-built Wisterman Road bridge over Mud Creek in Lockport, rated 4.83 and F.O., will have to be rehabilitated at some point, but projects are not in the works currently, according to Tracy.
Two other spans that didn’t fare well in D.O.T.’s latest report were addressed after their 2012 inspections. The county-owned Ewings Road bridge over Eighteenmile Creek near Warrens Corners was rehabilitated last summer. The Hartland-owned Mill Road bridge over Johnson Creek, a 111-year-old, one-lane span with a dismal 2.81 rating, was torn down last fall.North Adam Street bridge report due A "scoping" report on alternatives for dealing with the North Adam Street lift bridge should be completed by the end of this year. The bridge over the Erie Canal, connecting Market and Van Buren streets, has been closed to traffic and left in its raised position since mid 2011, when the state red-flagged it as unsafe for travel due to a deteriorated lifting mechanism. The Department of Transportation currently is fine-tuning the estimated costs of three alternatives for dealing with the span: by removal, replacement or rehabilitation. Preliminary estimates suggested removal alone would cost at least $500,000, and repair or replacement costs would exceed $7 million. While the Exchange Street lift bridge is only about 1,000 feet west, residents and historic preservation advocates indicated to D.O.T. earlier this year that they don't want the North Adam span, built in 1918, taken out. The scoping report will be subject to a 30-day public review/comment period once it's completed. D.O.T. won't identify its "preferred" alternative until after that period ends, spokesman Susan Surdej said last week.