Major repairs needed for 14 Spokane bridges - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Major repairs needed for 14 Spokane bridges

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

Fourteen bridges within a 10-mile radius of downtown Spokane have something in common, along with 69,000 other bridges nationwide – they’re structurally deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

That means they need some major repairs or more monitoring, but it does not mean they’re unsafe to drive on or in immediate danger of collapsing.

We travel on these bridges every day. But for people like Dale Harder, it's another day at the outdoor office. Dale has been inspecting Spokane County bridges for 15 years. He’s looking at the Seven Mile bridge.

“The concrete’s cracking and breaking,” he says. “It’s not a big deal, but it needs to be fixed so that doesn’t continue.”

It’s a newer one, replaced in 1992.

“Many, many decks look a lot worse than this. They have a lot of cracks. We only really have one crack in this one,” says Neil Carroll, Spokane County bridge manager.

Most bridges are much older.

“Our bridges were built for the for the most part on the interstate system in the 50s, 60s, and 70s,” says Al Gilson, WSDOT spokesman. “And that’s why we’re running into more and more repairs.

The bridge that goes along Trent Avenue, east of Hamilton, is owned by WSDOT. It’s one of the worst ones they have in Spokane. But it’s not the cracks, or even the railroad ties under the pavement that’s most concerning. It’s something called scour, which is erosion at the bottom of the bridge.

“We've had divers down there working on it on smaller projects over the years but that’s a lot of water and water’s a powerful thing,” Gilson says.

More than 10,000 cars, including several school buses, cross over it every day. Engineers are doing what they can but it's a bit of a losing battle.

“This bridge has to be replaced,” Gilson says.

That’s because it was built more than 100 years ago, in 1910. That past work is creating more concern now in the present.

“We need to patch that continually and make sure it doesn’t do that to make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse,” Gilson says.

They inspect most bridges every two years, but if the bridge is in bad shape, they look at it even more frequently than that. They would love pristine bridges, but “there’s just not enough money to go around for this aging infrastructure,” Gilson says.

It’s expensive. WSDOT has 310 bridges that are 75 years or older. To replace all of those, it would cost nearly $2.3 billion.

“That is frustrating for the crews because they know they’re going to be back,” Gilson says. “And they know they’re spending their money doing patchwork repair when they know a bridge deck needs to be replaced or a bridge or a bridge needs to be replaced. They know they’re going to be back because they’re not solving a problem. They’re just patching over it.”

The WSDOT has funding in place to replace the Trent Avenue Bridge, which is estimated to cost $19.8 million. But construction won't start until 2019.

“So that’s what we’re worried about is making sure this bridge continues to serve for the next two years, year and a half, before we replace it,” Gilson says.

In the meantime, the engineers will continue to patch the problem spots, both above and below the surface we see everyday.

“If it were not safe to drive on, we would close it,” Gilson says.

The City of Spokane is replacing Post Street bridge. Construction is planned to start next year and most of the funding is coming from the city’s own coffers, according to street department director Mark Serbousek.

A six-year transportation bill was just passed overwhelmingly by the US House, which would allow the state more flexibility in determining how to spend those federal dollars based on local need.

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