Critical bridges in state identified


Journal Staff Writer

and The Associated Press

MARQUETTE – Out of 28 Michigan bridges that are considered “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical,” eight are located in the Upper Peninsula, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.

Included are three bridges over the Whitefish River in Alger County and bridges over the Power Canal on West Portage Avenue in Sault Ste. Marie, the Rapid River on County Road H1 in Delta County, and three bridges in Gogebic County, including over the Presque Isle River on Copps Mine Road, Jackson Creek on Planter Road and the Ontonagon River on Miller Road.

Should drivers be alarmed? No, officials say. They said bridges in that category simply need regular maintenance and inspection while a long-term plan is developed to rehab them.

What drivers probably don’t see, according to state inspectors, is a deteriorating deck underneath. And while the bridge’s steel-capped piers below are in good shape, there’s nothing else to support the span if problems developed there.

“We get up real close and personal,” said David Juntunen, bridge operations engineer at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “If there’s any question at all, it’s closed to traffic.”

State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, said he agrees with Gov. Rick Snyder that Michigan needs more transportation funding because of the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“We need to put investment here in roads,” Kivela said. “We’re neglecting them for more than two decades.”

Kivela pointed out the gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in 15 years. However, he acknowledged legislators don’t want to raise taxes in an election year.

Jim Iwanicki, engineer manager with the Marquette County Road Commission, also pointed to funding as a main problem, both locally and with MDOT.

“Road and bridge funding is very critical here in the state of Michigan,” Iwanicki said.

Marquette County alone has 92 bridges with 35 needing work, he said, but the funding is not there for repairs.

“The more they sit and the longer they go, they fall into that structurally deficient category,” Iwanicki said.

The Associated Press analyzed data on 607,380 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory, which are subject to national inspection standards.

There are 65,605 structurally deficient bridges and 20,808 fracture critical bridges, according to the most recent data. Nearly 7,800 bridges fall into both categories.

Michigan’s share of that total is very low. Many are in remote areas where daily use is sporadic.

Most are the responsibility of local governments; only five of the 28 bridges that are structurally deficient and fracture critical are MDOT-owned bridges, although that doesn’t make inspections any less stringent.

Some high-traffic spans are the bridge over the east channel of the Saginaw River in Bay City and the M-20/Tittabawassee River bridge in Midland.

No major construction has been scheduled on the Bay City bridge, but the Midland bridge could be rebuilt in 2018, MDOT said. Most money comes from the federal government.

A bridge is structurally deficient if at least one major component has significant deterioration. A bridge is fracture critical if the failure of a single, vital component could cause a collapse.

“Those terms are engineering terms,” Juntunen said.

Bridge experts “realize they’re not warm-and-fuzzy phrases,” he said. “The best thing we can do is educate the public on what those terms really mean. If a bridge is fracture critical, we have to inspect them more often – but it definitely doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe.”

The list of Michigan bridges in both categories has some that don’t see much traffic.

Three are over the Whitefish River in Alger County in the Upper Peninsula. They are steel truss bridges, with a surface made from timbers, and probably need to be replaced.

“I applied for federal bridge funds for five consecutive years. Each year I’m denied,” said Bob Lindbeck, engineer and manager of the Alger County Road Commission.

He said the condition of the bridges forces him to post weight restrictions. That discourages people from living in the area year-round because snow trucks and emergency vehicles can’t cross.

“I’ve got letters of support in my application,” Lindbeck said. “People here are very patient but very persistent.”

Michigan’s main transportation fund is at its lowest level in 30 years when adjusted for inflation because people are driving less and with more fuel-efficient cars. The 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax is the same as it was 15 years ago.

In February, Gov. Snyder called for raising fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees by $1.2 billion. But the plan was not embraced in the Legislature, and talks on an alternative have gained little traction.

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said the money would be spread among programs but bridges would benefit.

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