State eyes local bridge overhauls, replacements
One of Haywood County's most traveled bridges is among the state's most substandard, according to an annual study by AAA Carolinas.
Coming in as the No. 10 worst ranked bridge in the state this year is a 49-year-old bridge on U.S. Highway 23, 74 which crosses U.S. Highway 19, 23. The bridge was built in 1965 and is currently considered structurally deficient, which means the bridge has an inadequate design for current traffic volume. The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to replace it in 2021.
According to a press release from AAA Carolinas, the state invested nearly $500 million in state and federal funds to replace and repair bridges last year. But there are still more than 5,100 that remain substandard.
This is the 17th year AAA Carolinas has released a substandard bridge ranking using NCDOT data to highlight the need for legislative funding to address the issues and inform the public.
"While we've seen slight improvements in North Carolina's bridges in the last year, we still have a long way to go," said Dave E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "We need to find more resources to fund our state's transportation infrastructure needs."
North Carolina ranks 14th in the nation as having the highest share of rural bridges rated structurally deficient, according to federal data.
In 2011, NCDOT began the State-Funded Bridge Improvement Program as a way to invest more state funding to improve bridge conditions.
The state funding from last fiscal year helped to improve more than 790 bridges and improve the bridge health index of 570 bridges that were rated as "poor."
The funding also resulted in 270 fewer structurally deficient bridges and 312 fewer bridges with weight restrictions. The legislature has approved $330 million this fiscal year to continue the program.
"We're seeing the positive results of our increased investment, which in the first three years is enabling us to upgrade about 1,000 more substandard bridges," said Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. "This is a good step forward, and with additional revenue, we could repair and replace even more of our deficient bridges to ensure motorist safety and better connect people to jobs, education, healthcare and recreation."
The NCDOT website lists 281 bridges in Haywood County that are at least 20 feet long. Bridges less than 20 feet long are not eligible for Federal Aid Bridge Replacement funds. Of those bridges, 147 are listed as either structurally deficient, structurally obsolete, or both.
The state recently announced 10 bridge replacements scheduled to begin this month in the county, particularly focusing on bridges in the White Oak area of Clyde where four replaced projects are planned.
The condition of the timber components in three bridges over Stevens Creek are what make them "structurally deficient," requiring the replacement, said Jordan-Ashley Baker, a spokesperson for NCDOT.
A structurally deficient bridge is considered safe, but requires some repairs and was built to design standards that no longer apply to modern bridges causing insufficient load capacity.
"They have been in service beyond their service life and even though repairs have been made to them throughout the years, there are certain elements of the bridge that cannot be repaired without replacing the entire bridge," Baker said.
Another bridge over Messer Branch is considered "functionally obsolete," which means the bridge is safe, but needs to be replaced to meet current and future traffic demands. The bridge is not currently considered structurally deficient.
"Another reason this bridge was selected as well in this project, was the fact that all the equipment and materials required to construct the other bridges would be required to travel across this bridge during construction and would require additional shoring to the bridge to get loads safely across it," Baker said.
The remaining six bridges to be replaced include:
• Bridge on East Street over Raccoon Creek, which was built in 1952 and is considered functionally obsolete.
• Bridge on Plott Creek Road over Plott Creek, which was built in 1950 and is considered functionally obsolete.
• Bridge on Upper Crabtree Road over Liner Creek, which was built in 1957 and is considered functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.
• Bridge on Baptist Church Road over Rogers Cove Creek, which was built in 1954 and is considered functionally obsolete and structurally deficient.
• Bridge on Laurel Branch Road over Laurel Branch, which was built in 1963
• Bridge on Panther Creek Road over Arrington Branch, which was built in 1964 and is considered functionally obsolete.
The cost of the 10-bridge replacement, plus one other bridge replacement in Jackson County, is about $5.3 million. The contract was awarded to NHM Constructors LLC of Asheville and construction is expected to be completed by mid-October 2017.
According to the NCDOT website, there is a strategy to approaching bridge replacements. First, officials determine if parts of the bridge can be repaired or replaced and look at the most cost effective route.
"By doing the right work on the right bridge at the right time, we can stretch our dollars further," according to the website.
Bridges can be preserved by resurfacing the deck, painting steel, cleaning bearings and repairing or replacing joints.
Rehabilitation occurs when officials replace decks, increase vertical clearance of low bridges, etc. Replacement means putting in a new bridge or replacing it with a culvert or pipe.
Bridges that are classified functionally obsolete or structurally deficient are not considered unsafe.
"If a bridge is unsafe, we immediately make repairs or close the bridge to traffic," Baker said.