In Oklahoma: We are worst in the nation

By Randy Ellis and Ryan McNeill Modified: August 4, 2007 at 12:57 pm •  Published: August 3, 2007
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Oklahoma continues to lead the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, but none on the state highway system are unsafe or in danger of imminent collapse, including Oklahoma City's aging Crosstown Expressway bridge, state highway officials said Thursday.

Nearly 6,300 bridges are structurally deficient in Oklahoma, which means the bridges aren't meant to carry today's loads, federal data show. Of those, 989 bridges are on Oklahoma's state highway system. Such bridges are under greater scrutiny after Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

"We feel the bridges in Oklahoma are safe to travel on,” John Fuller, chief engineer for the Oklahoma Transportation Department, said Thursday. "If they ever get to the condition where we know they are not safe to travel on, then we have and we would close them.

"We devote a lot of effort in the state of Oklahoma to stay apprised of the condition of our bridges,” he said.

Oklahoma tops in bad bridges
Oklahoma has led the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges since at least 2000, Federal Highway Administration figures show. Pennsylvania is No. 2 with 5,582.

The total includes bridges maintained by a number of different agencies within state limits, such as state government, counties and municipalities.

Nearly 27 percent of Oklahoma's 23,460 bridges are structurally deficient. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Iowa and South Dakota are the only other states with 20 percent or more of their bridges considered structurally deficient.

Oklahoma transportation officials called a news conference Thursday to discuss the condition of Oklahoma's bridges because of intense public scrutiny after Wednesday's deadly bridge collapse.

That bridge also was considered structurally deficient.

More than 50 news reporters jammed the lobby of the state Transportation Department building for the news briefing, and dozens of department employees leaned over the balcony above to hear what was said.

Many of the questions focused on Oklahoma City's aging Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge, which has a federal highway sufficiency rating of 49 on a 100-point scale — one point lower than the 50-point rating of the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed.

Despite the similar rating, state bridge engineer Bob Rusch said Oklahoma transportation officials don't consider the bridge unsafe.

"It's not the same type of bridge,” Rusch said. "It doesn't have the same attributes.”

Rusch said there is no bridge on the Oklahoma state highway system that he is afraid to drive across, including Oklahoma City's Crosstown bridge.

"We've already replaced the bridge I liked the least — the U.S. 59 bridge over the Arkansas River,” he said.

"If I received a call in the middle of the night, I wouldn't expect it to be the Crosstown. I would have expected it to be that one,” he said of the bridge south of Sallisaw, replaced about four years ago.

Bridges closely monitored
A lot of factors make up the sufficiency rating of a bridge and some of those factors relate to safety and some don't, he said.

It's not that state engineers aren't concerned about the Crosstown bridge. They are, and that's why they have scheduled it for replacement, said David Streb, director of engineering.

The department "dedicates an extreme amount of effort” to inspecting and maintaining the bridge, Streb said.

Critical components of the bridge are inspected every six months, instead of every two years as required by the federal government, he said.

"As soon as we get from one end to the other, we start again,” Streb said, adding that the department spends about $1 million a year on the bridge to keep it operational. National Bridge Inventory Bridge disaster interactive: Reconstructing the scene

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The elevated section of Interstate 40 over Reno at Francis Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City is shown Thursday. The Crosstown Bridge is one of many state bridges in "very serious” condition. By Paul B. Southerland, THE OKLAHOMAN
INSIDE
In News
•Oklahoma's worst bridges Page 4A

•Collapse was almost too close to home for

the Twins' Ron Gardenhire Page 6A

•Oklahoma no stranger to collapses Page 7A

In Business
•Crosstown Bridge scares truckers Page 1B

•State companies offer high-tech look Page 6B


Agency report shows bridges' status
The Federal Highway Administration makes the National Bridge Inventory available to the public. The data can provide a glimpse into the condition of a bridge.

National Bridge Inventory data contain a number of fields, including whether the bridge is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The collapsed bridge on Interstate 35 in Minnesota was considered structurally deficient.

"Functionally obsolete” can mean the bridge's lanes aren't wide enough for today's traffic.

The inventory also has a variety of different ratings, such as a scale rating the condition of the superstructure, substructure and deck.

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