I wrote an article in March regarding a study done by Transportation for America about the state of South Dakota’s bridges. South Dakota ranks 5th for the highest percentage of structurally-deficient bridges, while Nebraska ranks 6th. At the time the story came out, the individual bridges were not identified in their research. Consequently, local officials were a little confused, because they weren’t aware of the number of structurally-deficient bridges that were being attributed to Yankton County. The county highway superintendent knew of only one, and the county oversees the vast majority of bridges here.
Now, Transportation for America has a useful interactive map where, by typing in your location, you can find information on every bridge within a 10-mile radius. It may help clear up some of the confusion among local officials. I’m in the process of checking with them.
In the meantime, check this interactive map out for yourself: Interactive Bridge Map
Here is a short intro to the study provided by Transportation for America:
Despite billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 69,223 bridges — 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. — are classified as “structurally deficient,” requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
Two key problems persist: while Congress has repeatedly declared bridge safety a national priority, existing federal programs don’t ensure that aging bridges actually get fixed; and the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges.
Finally, this is the story I wrote on the issue in late March:
A study by a national transportation advocacy coalition shows that one in four bridges in Yankton County is structurally deficient. However, local transportation officials were left scratching their heads when looking at the figures.
Transportation for America says the condition of South Dakota’s bridges is the fifth-worst in the nation. It claims that just more than 20 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient” according to government standards, which compares to 11.5 percent nationwide. The study was compiled by using data from the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
“Things are really rough in South Dakota,” Transportation for America Field Organizer Andrea Kiepe said. “But, frankly, things are rough all over the country. It’s really poised to get worse. We’re going to have a backlog of bridge maintenance descend upon us. We need to be prepared for that.”
In Yankton County, about 26 percent of its 101 bridges are structurally deficient, according to the study.
Federal law requires states to inspect all bridges 20 feet or longer at least every two years. Bridges in “very good” condition may go four years between inspections, while those rated “structurally deficient” must be inspected every year.
By that criteria, Yankton County Highway Superintendent Alan Sorensen said he knows of one bridge owned by the county that would qualify as structurally deficient. It is located 1.5 miles north of Highway 46 along 444th Avenue. It wasn’t determined to be structurally deficient until recently, and the Yankton County Commission signed a resolution earlier this month stating that it is to be inspected annually. It’s the first time a county bridge has been declared structurally deficient and required annual inspection in at least 15 years, according to Sorensen.
“(This study) bothered me, because I was wondering where these 25 other bridges are,” he said. “I don’t know of them.”
The county is responsible for 71 bridges.
The state is responsible for five bridges in the county, and Yankton-area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation Ron Peterson said he is aware of only one that may be structurally deficient: The Meridian Bridge, which is currently being renovated for recreational uses.
“(Transportation for America) could be using different criteria to determine structural deficiency than we use,” Peterson stated.
According to Transportation for America, in the surrounding area:
• 49 of Bon Homme County’s 135 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 32 of Charles Mix County’s 105 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 21 of Clay County’s 94 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 29 of Hutchinson County’s 155 bridges are structurally deficient;
• 53 of Turner County’s 140 bridges are structurally deficient; and
• 20 of Union County’s 175 bridges are structurally deficient.
Transportation for America has not yet released a report on Nebraska.
Yankton County Commission Chairman Bruce Jensen said he was also concerned about the figures when he first looked at the study but received some peace of mind after speaking with Sorensen.
“We need to continue upgrading them, but I believe our roads and bridges are in pretty good condition,” he said.
Sorensen admitted that the county has many bridges with posted limits, but that doesn’t necessarily make them structurally deficient. He also said that the county attempts to replace a bridge every year or two as funding allows.
Inspections done on bridges every two years are put to good use, Sorensen stated.
“The inspection tells us what we need to do to keep them the way they are,” he said. “After I get these, I give them to the foremen, and they try to repair them. Sometimes, there is no keeping up because of the bridge’s age.”
Kiepe said upkeep of transportation infrastructure is a popular issue with average Americans.
“People care a lot about infrastructure,” she said. “They want it to be rebuilt and think it is one of the things that made America great. That sentiment is not making it through the beltway and into Congress. If we can get those voices and get a public outcry, maybe we’ll get some movement. It’s such a critical issue. That’s why we have so many businesses in our coalition.”
Transportation for America has formed a coalition of housing, business, environmental, public health, transportation, equitable development and other organizations that are working to align America’s national, state and local transportation policies with an array of issues like economic opportunity, climate change, energy security, health, housing and community development.
With Congress writing a six-year transportation bill, Transportation for America is trying to generate civic concern on the issue. According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 70,000 bridges nationwide are classified as “structurally deficient,” and $70.9 billion would be required by transportation agencies to overcome the current backlog of deficient bridges.
Approximately half of the state transportation funding in the nation comes from Washington.
“(Congress is) going to be making the decisions about what the priorities are (and) how much money to devote, and this has got to be a priority,” Kiepe said. “It’s a matter of safety. It’s a matter of economic vitality. It’s a matter of economic recovery.”
With double-digit unemployment in the construction sector, Kiepe said there is no better time to invest in crucial infrastructure.
“These bridges are going to have to get fixed eventually,” she said. “We might as well do it now, when people are desperate for jobs. When you delay the maintenance, it only gets more expensive. If we don’t have a healthy transportation network, the recovery is going to be slower. That’s the last thing we need right now.”