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Minnesota bridges still at risk, says report

Today, one out of every eleven bridges that motorists in Minnesota cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree; and 8.8 percent of bridges statewide are rated "structurally deficient," according to government standards.

Today, one out of every eleven bridges that motorists in Minnesota cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree; and 8.8 percent of bridges statewide are rated "structurally deficient," according to government standards.

A new report from Transportation from America released this week shows that Minnesota ranks 34th nationally in terms of the overall condition of the state's bridges, with one being the worst, 51 being the best. The report includes a list of the most heavily used structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota, ranked by average annual daily traffic (ADT) counts. Nine of the ten bridges on the list are in Ramsey or Hennepin County.

"The Fix We're In: The State of Minnesota's Bridges" finds that drivers in Minnesota are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges with "poor" ratings - bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair.

After the devastating I-35 bridge collapse in 2007, Minnesota took a proactive step in 2008 by passing the Trunk Highway Bridge Improvement Program, providing $2.5 billion in state funds over ten years to rehabilitate or reconstruct structurally deficient bridges, prioritizing those with higher traffic volumes and those classified as "fracture critical." This effort has greatly improved Minnesota's network of bridges, but problems remain.

"It really shows the scale of the problem, when after a multi-billion dollar bridge repair effort, Minnesota is just above average. And we have some rural counties with one fifth or more of their bridges structurally deficient," said Andrea Kiepe MN Organizer with Transportation for America.

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Regardless of the amount of wear and tear experienced by a specific bridge, most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years, yet more than 185,000 highway bridges nationwide (out of 600,000 total) are 50 years old or older. By 2030, that number could double without substantial bridge replacement, and it has the potential to triple by 2050. Minnesota's average is 35.2 years old.

A recent story in the LaCrosse Tribune indicated that drivers have been ignoring weight limits that Mn/DOT posted last June on a 69-year old bridge in Winona, Minnesota, after the discovery of nine corroded gusset plates. The bridge over the Mississippi River is not slated for reconstruction until 2014.

"We have big problems with the condition of our existing bridges and highways. Yet, we continue to fund new interchanges and highway and bridge widening projects. Minnesota can't afford anymore to make huge spending decisions without looking at the big picture--from pavement conditions to multimodal options. We've been expanding highways for decades. Now we need to focus on road and bridge repair and on the network for other modes of getting around: transit, sidewalks, bike routes," said Barb Thoman, executive director of Transit for Livable Communities.

Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of our bridges to be of national significance. However, the current federal program is not designed to ensure that transportation agencies have enough money and accountability to get the job done.

"Obviously, safety is the main concern. But repair work on roads and bridges generates 16 percent more jobs than new construction," said Andrea Kiepe. "Given the turbulent economic situation in America, the federal government should reward states that take the 'fix it' approach."

"Additional funding for bridges will enhance mobility, economic development and safety on roadways throughout all of Minnesota. Moreover, bridge upgrades always leverage funding from local, state and federal sources, demonstrating that it is only through a collective and concerted effort that we will be able to ensure that present and future generations have access to the high quality infrastructure that is required of a successful 21st century civilization, " said Ryan O'Connor, with the Association of Minnesota Counties.

"Preserving Minnesota's existing transportation system is crucial to ensuring regional prosperity, safety and a higher quality of life," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. "The economic and social cost of neglect is simply too high. It is time for our policymakers to shore up our infrastructure and ensure Americans get the most bang for our transportation buck."

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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