Why local bridges are getting repairs and others aren't - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Why local bridges are getting repairs and others aren't

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The Virginia Department of Transportation is getting millions of dollars to start the process of replacing bridges in our area.

A recent report from Transportation for America shows all the country's deficient bridges--- laid end to end--- would span from Washington, DC to Denver, Colorado --- more than 1,500 miles.

Transportation for America reports Lexington as one of the top five worst spots in the state for deficient bridges with 22.2% deficient.  According to the group, they say two of the city's nine bridges are deficient and 21,150 or 64.8% of total daily bridge traffic drives on those deficient bridges.

Martinsville and Radford rank in the top five best areas of the state with no deficient bridges, according to the same group.

Click here to search our database of local bridges

The Salem VDOT district has just learned they will get more than a 50-percent increase in money over last year's Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP)--- more than $227-million. The SYIP is the Commonwealth's spending plan for transportation improvements.  It allocates the expected transportation revenues over the next six fiscal years and allocates it to specific projects.  The plan is revisited each year and takes effect July 1. 

VDOT is putting the new funding toward critical priorities.  One of those priorities is bridge funding.  More than 60 bridges in the district will advance toward replacement over the next six years with most of them just entering the design phase. 

"It's more traffic out here than ever, and I think it's getting worse," said John Thornton, who drives about 150,000 across 23 states.

Thornton says bridges are a concern.

"I have to go over them, you don't have any choice, it's just hurry up and get across, that's the way I look at it, it's just hurry up and get across. Hopefully you aren't on there with a bunch of other heavy trucks or cars," said Thornton.

Virginia has 20,991 bridges and 1,576 are listed as structurally deficient.

Some of those bridges you may cross every day. 280 bridges in the Salem VDOT district are listed as "structurally deficient".

"Structurally deficient is kind of like vitamin deficient in us humans. It doesn't mean the structure's going to collapse, it means that it's deteriorated to a point where it needs to be rehabbed, replaced or put on a schedule for repairs," said David Wright, the Salem VDOT bridge safety inspection engineer.

Wright works with a team of eight inspectors determining what bridges need work.

WSLS dug through hundreds of pages of reports to learn the health of our local bridges.  

One of VDOT's biggest priorities is a bridge almost 20,000 people cross a day. It's on Interstate 81 northbound over the New River on the Pulaski / Montgomery County line. Built almost 50-years ago, VDOT says it's reached the end of it's life span but until recently,  they didn't have all the money needed to replace it.  Now the more than $78-million dollar project is fully funded and set for construction bids in 2018.

Thousands of people travel the Liberty Road bridge that runs over Interstate 581. VDOT says it's deemed structurally deficient due to people hitting it. The bridge is monitored every 12 months for changes but there are no current plans for work at this location.

Another well traveled bridge that people hit is the bridge that carries Interstate 581 over Orange Avenue. It's also deemed "structurally deficient". Right now there are no plans for construction.

So why are some bridges getting work and others aren't? VDOT says it comes down to money.

"There's certainly never going to be enough funding for everything that we are going to receive so we have to prioritize the funding that we do have available," said Jason Bond a VDOT spokesman. "We look at the priority is higher on say interstate bridge that carries more traffic, that is probably in worse shape, than a bridge that's had some repairs. The long-term funding solution is probably not going to be available any time soon." 

But drivers like Thornton are still concerned.

"I'm wondering if it's going to hold the weight with me and everybody else on it," said Thornton.

The VDOT bridge office identified the following bridges as those that have been placed at the top of their list as needing replacement/rehab:

  • Route 773 bridge over Roanoke River in Montgomery County - will be advertised for construction this year
  • Route 634 in Bedford (Hardy Road Bridge) is in the design phase with construction advertisement planned for 2017
  • Route 813 in Montgomery County is currently in the six year plan with money allocated for PE in 2017 (low volume of traffic)
  • Route 221 in Floyd County over Pine Creek under construction
Inspection Process

Bridges have to be inspected once every 24 months due to federal mandates. Bridges maybe inspected more often if problems are found due to age, deterioration, bridge damage or other concerns. 

VDOT conducts between 11,000 and 12,000 bridge inspections a year. 

WSLS followed a bridge inspection crew to Giles County for an annual inspection. 

Crews took measurements of the bridge in several spots and then started tapping on parts of the structure. 

"A lot of things we do is just by sound. You can take a hammer and tap a piece of concrete and if the concrete is good it has a distinct ring to it. If the concrete is starting to deteriorate or what we call delaminate, it has a real hollow or popping sound to it. That's just one of the ways we keep up with the life of the concrete" said David Looney, a VDOT bridge safety inspection team leader. 

Crews mark of any deteriorated concrete and it goes into the report-- determining the bridge rating and overall health of the bridge. 

Across the district, the square footage of deteriorated concrete is added together to determine what needs to go into the budget for repair. 

"I think it's the greatest thing I could be doing. I look at everything like my wife or my kids are going to be driving on it," Looney. "We can make things happen if there's something serious going on. The sole reason for the position I have is for public safety and we take it very seriously." 

Looney says if something major happens and VDOT is called to the scene, they can close the bridge immediately. He says it doesn't happen very often, but when it does it's usually due to someone hitting a structure. 

"When you finally do get to put it all together to make a difference or prevent someone from getting injured or worse it makes what I do what everyday worthwhile. We look at stuff every day that doesn't have any problems, you know it's in good shape, but the rare occasion when you do run into something when you can put use all the skills you've been taught over the years, it means a lot," said Looney. 

For more information, visit the links above. 

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