Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 7:31 PM on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Alaska ranks 21st-worst in nation for bridge infrastructure

By Sean Manget
Morris News Service - alaska

Alaska stands at 21st-worst in the nation when it comes to the structural integrity of its bridge infrastructure, according to a report release by a national transportation advocacy group.

Some 12.2 percent of the state's 1,135 bridges are "structurally deficient," or in a state of disrepair, according to "The Fix We're In: The State of Alaska's Bridges," issued by the advocacy group Transportation for America.

This rating places Alaska at slightly above the national average of 11.5 percent.

Still, the news puts Alaskans in danger of losing crucial transportation links due to sudden bridge closures, or loss of life if a bridge collapses, the report stated.

"Drivers in Alaska are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges with 'poor' ratings — bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair," wrote authors Lilly Shoup, Nick Donohue and Marisa Lang.

According to the report, drivers in Alaska cross bridges more than 3.6 million times daily. Of that total, drivers cross structurally deficient bridges 179,337 times.

Specific boroughs are singled out and ranked according to the proportion of their bridges that are in disrepair. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough is listed as the worst, with 14 out of 46 bridges, or 30.4 percent, considered structurally deficient.

The Haines Borough is considered second-worst, with three out of 11, or 27.3 percent, of its bridges deficient.

The municipality of Anchorage ranks at ninth-worst, but it contains seven of the most-trafficked structurally deficient bridges. Examples include the Lake Otis Road bridge that crosses Campbell Creek, with 25,249 crossings per day, and the Dowling Road bridge that also crosses Campbell Creek, with 8,797 daily crossings.

Alaska is nowhere near the worst of the states, however. Pennsylvania takes the No. 1 spot, with 26.5 percent of its bridges deemed structurally deficient. With 22 percent of its bridges in disrepair, Oklahoma comes in second.

The two states considered to have the best bridge infrastructure are Nevada and Florida.

The crux of the report is that the nation's bridges are not being properly cared for, and that federal funding to fix the problem doesn't synch up to need.

"For years, the federal government has run a special bridge repair program, but a combination of the program's shortcomings and the sheer growth in aging bridges has prevented its success," the report stated.

According to the report, despite only $5.2 billion of federal funding having been appropriated in 2009 for bridge repair nationally through the Federal Highway Bridge Program, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $70.9 billion was needed to eliminate the backlog of needed repairs.

In addition to a national report, transportation advocacy group Transportation for America put out individual reports for each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A report released by the state last month paints a slightly more upbeat picture. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities determined in the report, which covered last year, that 11 percent of bridges owned by the department were in "poor" condition.

"Alaska bridges are in overall good condition," the report stated.

Some 788 bridges are owned by the department. Engineers with the department inspect 500 public bridges each year, regardless of ownership.

"Bridge inspection and remediation is ongoing and will always face challenges. About one-third of the bridges in the state are past the mid-point of their 75-year design life," the state report said.

The total deck area of structurally deficient bridges in the state, meaning the total square-footage of all the bridges in disrepair, has declined by 36 percent since 2003, the report stated.

The report outlines the intent of the state DOT to address the problem. As of October 2010, some 79 DOT-owned bridges were considered structurally deficient, and 31 of them were placed on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan for replacement or rehabilitation between 2010 and 2013.

Sean Manget can be reached at sean.manget@alaskajournal.com.