6.3% of Arkansas bridges are structurally deficient, ARTBA analysis shows

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 311 views 

The Interstate 440 Arkansas River Bridge in Little Rock

Motorists in Arkansas crossed structurally deficient bridges 2.07 million times daily in 2016, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The ARTBA recently looked into 2016 bridge data from the Federal Highway Administration and found 6.3%, or 811 bridges, of the 12,871 bridges in Arkansas were deemed structurally deficient.

“This means one or more of the key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, is considered to be in poor or worse condition,” according to ARTBA.

Arkansas is ranked 34th nationwide, based on the percentage of deficient bridges, and since 2013, has improved from 39th. As of Monday (Aug. 7), Arkansas had 737 structurally deficient bridges, said Danny Straessle, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Of the 7,333 state-owned bridges, 324 are considered structurally deficient.

While the bridges are considered structurally deficient, they are still safe, he said. The highway department focuses on repairing or replacing deficient bridges when it plans for highway construction in its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). It also works to preserve good bridges.

“The preservation of our good bridges is needed to prolong their life and keep them from becoming deficient.”

In the United States, 9.1% of all bridges, or 55,710 bridges, were structurally deficient in 2016, according to ARTBA. The number of bridges that were structurally deficient declined 5.2% in 2016, from 2015. In Arkansas, the number of bridges structurally deficient decreased 4.2% over the same period. States with the lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges were Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Utah and the District of Columbia.

Over the past decade, states with the largest decrease in structurally deficient bridges included Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania and Texas and Missouri. States in which the number of structurally deficient bridges rose were West Virginia, Idaho, Arizona, Delaware and Rhode Island. Between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of structurally deficient bridges declined 24.5%, from 73,817. Federal money supports more than half of all state highway and bridge projects. In Arkansas, 61% of the projects are supported by federal money.

“At the current pace, it would take more than three decades to replace or repair all of them,” said ARTBA Chief Economist Allison Premo Black.

The top 14 most traveled structurally deficient bridges are in California. With 273,760 crossings per day, the Dominguez Channel bridge on Interstate 110 has been structurally deficient since at least 2013, according to ARTBA.

The majority of the busiest bridges in Arkansas that were deemed deficient are in the central part of the state. As the 142nd and 143rd most traveled structurally deficient bridges in the United States, the Union Pacific Railroad overpasses on Locust Street and Interstate 30 both see 123,000 crossings per day and have been structurally deficient since at least 2013, according to ARTBA. The previous overpass was built in 1936 and the latter in 1961, and both are in Pulaski County.

The state has identified needed repairs on 2,533 bridges, and the work is expected to cost $3 billion, according to ARTBA. In the past 10 years, 1,114 bridges have been built, and 66 underwent “major reconstruction.” Between 2005 and 2014, Arkansas has received $1.3 billion in federal funding for 671 bridge projects.

“In the last few years we have been replacing or repairing some of our largest, deficient bridges,” Straessle said.

This includes the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River, which was repaired, and the Broadway Bridge over the Arkansas River in Little Rock, which was replaced. The ninth most traveled bridge in the state that was deemed structurally deficient was the Mississippi River bridge on I-40, with 40,000 crossings daily. The bridge in Crittenden County was built in 1973.

Other heavily traveled bridges along I-30 that were deemed structurally deficient include the Arkansas River bridge and the overpass of the Union Pacific Railroad and Frontage Road. The previous, with 114,000 crossings daily, was built in 1958, while the latter, with 45,500 crossings per day, was built it 1960.

“Currently we have over 80 structurally deficient bridges scheduled for replacement, with jobs to be let before the end of 2020,” Straessle said. “Nine of the most heavily travelled deficient bridges are on I-30 in Pulaski and Saline counties. Three of these, including the one over the Arkansas River, are to be replaced under Job CA0602, 30 Crossing. Four are to be replaced under Job CA0601, Hwy. 70 to Sevier St. in Saline County, likely in 2018.”

The majority, or 737 of the 811 structurally deficient bridges, are in rural areas of the state. As for the bridges that aren’t owned by the state, the highway department, doesn’t have plans to repair or replace them, Straessle said.

“Our responsibility is to inspect and analyze these bridges and recommend load postings and/or repairs to the bridge owner. We have recently implements a program to provide steel, salvaged from state owned bridges being replaced, to local agencies. Our intent with this program is to help the local agencies build better bridges or bridges made with better materials.”

In the First Congressional District of Arkansas, which includes the northeast and eastern parts of the state, 7% of all bridges, or 310 bridges, are structurally deficient. The state has identified needed repairs for 855 bridges there, and the work is expected to cost $741 million. The top three most traveled structurally deficient bridges in the district are along I-40 in Crittenden County.

In the Third Congressional District of Arkansas, which includes Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith area, 6% of all bridges, or 126 bridges, were deemed structurally deficient. The state has identified needed repairs for 373 bridges in the counties in the district, with an expected cost of $149 million.

The majority of the busiest bridges needing repair are in Crawford and Sebastian counties. The busiest, with 21,000 daily crossings, are the Interstate 540 overpass of Arkansas 255 in Sebastian County and the U.S. 64 bridge over Town Branch in Crawford County.

In Benton County, the Spring Branch bridge on Arkansas 59 and Little Sugar Creek bridge on Arkansas 340 are the most traveled structurally deficient bridges, with 9,000 and 12,000 crossings per day, respectively.