Friday, August 17, 2007

Ric Williamson: "All of the bridges on Texas' public roads are safe."

Bridge safety

State releases list of deficient bridges

Thirty-six Central Texas spans make the list.

August 17, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Responding to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's request for a complete inventory of "structurally deficient" bridges, the Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday released a list of 2,024 such Texas bridges, including 36 in the three-county Austin area.

The agency at the same time released a broadside, sending Dewhurst a five-page letter that included several paragraphs outlining how the Legislature has failed to provide it the necessary funds to take on bridge maintenance and other state transportation challenges.

"In each of the recent legislative sessions, TxDOT and its regional partners have been asked to do more with less," the letter from Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson says.

It goes on to outline how the Legislature took more transportation money for other needs and limited the agency's ability to tap the private sector for roads. "(T)he net result of legislative action was to scale back resources," Williamson said in the letter.

Dewhurst had asked for the report in an Aug. 3 letter to the department, two days after an Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"I read with relief your statement that 'all of the bridges on Texas' public roads are safe,' " Dewhurst said in his letter, "but the Minnesota highway department, I assume, thought that was true for their state, too."

The Transportation Department's county-by-county list includes a federal "sufficiency rating" between one and 100 for each of the 2,024 bridges, as well as a categorization of how soon bridges might be repaired or replaced.

The agency said 282 bridges are currently being repaired or rehabilitated, 1,303 are in its 10-year plan for remedial work and 439 are not on any list for repair or funding.

A bridge is deemed structurally deficient, the agency said Thursday, "if significant elements of the bridge are deteriorating or damaged, (if there is) extreme restriction of load carrying capacity or the adequacy of the waterway opening under the bridge is extremely inadequate. A structurally deficient bridge should not be confused with an unsafe bridge."

The sufficiency rating is calculated using raw data from inspections of bridge structures and decks, taking into account "structural adequacy and safety, serviceability and functional obsolescence and essentiality for public use."

In the Austin area, Travis County has 10 structurally deficient bridges, some of the most prominent being two bridges near Cameron Road and Interstate 35 and the FM 973 crossing of the Colorado River. Repairs to two of the 10 are ongoing.

Williamson County has 23 such bridges, including the U.S. 183 bridge over the South San Gabriel River and the Brushy Creek Road bridge over Brushy Creek. Three bridges are under repair.

And in Hays County, there are three structurally deficient bridges. One, on Old Martindale Road over the Blanco River, is under repair.; 445-3698

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