June 21, 2013

More than 350 Maine bridges deficient

The state makes progress since 2011, but it's still ninth worst in the nation in terms of percentage.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine reduced its number of structurally deficient bridges by 8.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, but the state still ranks in the national top 10 for the highest percentage of deficient bridges, according to a recent study.

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Martin's Point Bridge from Portland looking toward Falmouth. Photographed on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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The Route 1 bridge over the Kennebunk River on the Kennebunk and Arundel town line is one of over 350 'deficient' bridges in Maine.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer:

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The national safety advocacy group Transportation for America ranked Maine ninth among 50 states, with slightly more than one of every seven bridges classified as deficient by Federal Highway Administration standards.

That designation doesn't mean a bridge is unsafe, only that it needs significant repair or maintenance to remain in use.

Even though Maine reduced its number of deficient bridges last year, state transportation officials say the study highlights that funding is still lacking for work on all the bridges that need it.

"We're constantly inspecting and evaluating bridges so we can prioritize," said Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot. "Each state has an aging infrastructure and our needs always exceed available funds."

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, used the study this week to push for increased funding.

Michaud and other legislators have sponsored the SAFE Bridges Act, which would provide $2.75 billion to states for bridge repair in 2013 and 2014. The act would distribute funds among states through a needs-based formula, based on each state's share of deficient bridges.

Michaud also sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee this week requesting more money for bridges in its transportation funding bill. Most bridge projects in Maine are funded through a 80-20 split between federal and state funds.

"Maine has made strides like many other states, but more resources and attention need to be paid to our aging infrastructure," Michaud said in a prepared statement. "This is a safety and economic issue. We can't compete in a global economy if we allow our transportation networks to decay."

Two major bridge collapses – one on Interstate 5 in Washington state in May, the other on state Route 202 in Arizona this week – highlight the fragile state of the country's transportation infrastructure. The bridge in Washington had last been inspected in November, and the inspection report noted that several parts already had damage from being hit by big rigs.

Maine has slightly more than 2,400 bridges, 356 of them classified as deficient last year. With 14.8 percent of its bridges deemed deficient, Maine was above the national average of 11 percent, but well below Pennsylvania, which had the highest percentage, 24.5.

Florida and Nevada were the lowest, with 2.2 percent of their bridges classified as deficient.

A highway bridge has three primary components: the deck, the substructure and the superstructure. During an inspection, each component is given a rating from 0 to 9. If any component is rated 4 or below, the bridge is classified as deficient.

Federal law requires states to inspect all bridges that are at least 20 feet long every two years. Maine inspects its bridges once a year, and sometimes inspects deficient bridges more frequently, Talbot said.

If a bridge is deemed unsafe -- meaning it cannot support the average daily traffic -- immediate action is taken, with the span posted for lower weight, or closed. Talbot said no bridge in Maine is classified as unsafe.

The study's 2012 list of 356 deficient bridges in Maine is no longer completely up to date, since some bridges deemed deficient have been repaired or rehabilitated, and other bridges have been moved onto the list.

Talbot said bridge inspectors submit regular reports to the Department of Transportation's engineers, who decide which projects need immediate attention based on the funding available. Factors such as how heavily a bridge is used also are considered.

(Continued on page 2)

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