Broken Bridges: A closer look at a crumbling piece of our transp - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Broken Bridges: A closer look at a crumbling piece of our transportation system

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There are 68,842 "structurally deficient" spans in the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration. That breaks down to roughly one out of every nine bridges nationwide that needs significant work. There are 68,842 "structurally deficient" spans in the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration. That breaks down to roughly one out of every nine bridges nationwide that needs significant work.
SPOKANE, Wash. -

It happens nearly a quarter-billion times a day in the United States: a car, truck or other vehicle travels across one of our country's bridges that needs significant repairs, rehabilitation or should be flat out replaced.

There are 68,842 of those "structurally deficient" spans in the U.S., according to the Federal Highway Administration. That breaks down to roughly one out of every nine bridges nationwide that needs significant work.

Engineers say the bridges are safe right now. Despite the pretty ominous sounding classification, engineers say even bridges that are structurally deficient or "fracture critical" -- meaning a bridge doesn't have the needed protections and is at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails -- are not about to collapse.

BROKEN BRIDGES: How a bridge inspection is done

However it's a problem that hits close to home, because some of those structurally deficient bridges are ones thousands of us drive across daily here in the Inland Northwest. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows there are 14 structurally deficient bridges within ten square miles of downtown Spokane, including some that school buses drive over more than a dozen times per day.

It's also an issue industry groups, like the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), say is only going to get worse.

Many bridges deemed fracture critical or structurally deficient in the U.S. were built between the 1950's and 1970's during the construction of our interstate highway system. Engineers told KHQ's Katie Chen that most bridges have a lifespan of about 70-75 years.

Do the math, and that means many of our bridges will have hit their late stages of life between 2025 and 2054.

Two branches of the National Science Foundation inspect a majority of the nation's bridges. Their inspectors point out that many bridges suffer significant environmental damage that needs repair before the typical bridge ever reaches mid-life -- meaning many bridges will have already received considerable damage over the last 30 years.

Cities and states alike would love to replace the aging and vulnerable bridges spanning our roadways, but few have the money to do so on their own. Nationwide it's a multibillion-dollar program with a funding source that's teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, and has no clear future beyond this decade.

Add it all up, and you see why many highway engineers are juggling repairs and tweaks to try to stay ahead of any deterioration before the worst case scenario happens -- a collapse.

Wednesday night on KHQ Local News at 6pm, we delve in-depth into the question of how broken our bridges in the Inland Northwest are, what engineers are doing to make sure catastrophe doesn't come here, and whether anyone is trying to bridge a funding gap that's growing by the day.

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