Shutdown highlights need for bridge repairs - WRBL

WNCN Investigates

Bonner Bridge shutdown highlights need for bridge repairs

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

It's a bridge thousands of families cross year-round, not to mention the busy summer months. But the state closed the Bonner Bridge Monday after learning the Oregon Inlet has scoured out sand around the base of supports at the southern end.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation said reopening the bridge will require fortifying the bridge's support columns and bringing in additional sand.

"Its the first time in 50 years it's been this bad," said Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata.

Tata spoke with WNCN Investigates about the Bonner Bridge Friday night. He said he ordered the coastal bridge closed for repair after it was discovered there was major erosion around the pilings.

"We have a very comprehensive bridge assessment program that looks at every bridge throughout the state and we rank them," he said.

Rank them by severity of problems, and the Bonner Bridge obviously was at the top.

WNCN Investigates began looking into bridge safety this past summer. A government report finds one in nine bridges nationwide is considered "structurally deficient."

As of this summer, NCDOT said more than 2,000 of the 13,000 bridges in the state are considered deficient. In searching a federal database, WNCN found dozens in the Triangle alone.

NCDOT defines "structurally deficient" as this:

"While the bridge remains safe, it requires repairs and was built to design standards no longer used for bridges. A bridge is considered structurally deficient if it is in relatively poor condition, or has insufficient load-carrying capacity."

Poor condition doesn't mean critical, said NCDOT, and it doesn't necessarily require a shutdown.

Analysts put the average age of the deficient bridges at 54 years old.

So how often are state bridges inspected? Each one gets a once-over each year, but a thorough inspection is only done once every two years.

NCDOT said hundreds of millions in state funds have been invested over the past two years to improve more than 1,000 bridges across the state, with millions more allocated for the next two years.

A number of groups have done studies on the state of North Carolina's bridges, including AAA Carolinas, which took the state's numbers, and this summer, found one-third of the bridges in the state to be considered "substandard."  

AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Angela Bailey defines "substandard" as a bridge that has "concerning" infrastructure but does not pose an immediate threat. Here are the percentages of bridges in area counties the group found to be substandard: 

  •  Wake County, 26 percent
  •  Durham County, 34 percent 
  •  Orange County, 38 percent
  •  Johnston County, 25 percent in Johnston County
  •  Cumberland County, 28 percent 

AAA highlighted the Top 20 worst bridges in North Carolina, and some are in the Triangle.

One is the bridge at U.S. 70 at U.S. 401 in Wake County, which was built in 1952 and is being replaced this year. 

And the bridge at U.S. 15/501 at State Route 1308 in Durham County, built in 1956, is scheduled for replacement in 2021.

AAA Carolinas ranked bridges based on their condition and average weekly traffic.

There is independent proof progress is being made. AAA said the number of concerning bridges has dropped year to year. 

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Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan is an investigative reporter and anchor with over a decade of experience. Jonathan has broken stories that have resulted in local and statewide change. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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