Dozens of bridges in St. Lawrence County officially ‘structurally deficient’

Posted 6/23/13

By CRAIG FREILICH At least 40 bridges on state and county roads in St. Lawrence County are officially designated “structurally deficient” but funding for repairs has been reduced in recent years. …

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Dozens of bridges in St. Lawrence County officially ‘structurally deficient’



At least 40 bridges on state and county roads in St. Lawrence County are officially designated “structurally deficient” but funding for repairs has been reduced in recent years.

“We have a phenomenal bridge crew that can do a bridge replacement easily. We were doing three or four a year. Now we’re concentrating on maintenance and small minor rehabs, because there is no allocation for any in-house projects,” said county Highway Superintendent Toby Bogart.

While he believes no bridges in the county are unsafe, Bogart has lost some maintenance capability over the last few years, in terms of the machines used in the work and in people to do the work.

“We haven’t been able to replace any equipment in the last five years or so,” Bogart says. “Major equipment upgrades used to be on a regular cycle.”

And since 2007, his department has cut 20 people.

“Capital project money has been drastically reduced. The last couple of years we haven’t had any.”

He’s not suggesting that the county sacrifice everything to get his department more funding, but he would like to be certain he can keep up with what’s required.

“It’s no secret that statewide, actually wherever you look, nobody’s flush with cash,” said state Department of Transportation Region 7 spokesman Mike Flick. “We do the best we can with what we have.”

“Bridges require maintenance whether intensive or preventative,” Flick said. “The day you cut the ribbon they start to get old. But there’s a continuous inspection process.”

Authorities have confidence in the system for bridge inspections and rating a bridge’s condition.

Bridges all over the country are inspected every two years, or more often if engineers have seen something that needs closer attention. They prefer not to be surprised by things such as the sudden degradation of the Lake Champlain Bridge between New York and Vermont or the collapse of a bridge along an Interstate Highway in Washington State last month -- the second Interstate bridge collapse in six years.

Congress, which funds 80 percent of repairs to bridges designated deficient, is still funding those repairs, but last year it eliminated a fund dedicated to bridges, meaning that bridge projects are competing with others for less money.

Routine Maintenance

Bridge maintenance crews, both with state DOT and the county, do routine maintenance, such as deck patching and minor structural repairs. If they see something potentially significant, they will notify their supervisor, who is, in the case of DOT Region 7, “the regional bridge maintenance engineer with 25 years of experience,” Flick said.

They will ask themselves, Flick said, “How bad is what’s wrong?” Priorities are set by extent of decay, available funds and personnel, and beyond that, things like relative traffic load.

“Bridges with higher volume will get more attention,” Flick said. “Say there are two bridges in an equal state of repair, or disrepair, however you want to look at it, and this one has 500 cars going across it in a day and this other one has 5,000 crossings a day, the higher volume bridge gets priority.”

Between 15 and 20 bridges that the county is responsible for have some important enough deficiency to be on the “deficient” list.

“Any bridge with a rating of 4.5 or less is on our priority list,” Bogart said. “Something like that is usually just wear and tear on bridges. We just need to be cognizant of them. DOT does inspections every two years, or if a bridge is flagged, then every year” until repairs are made. Any serious conditions “have to be dealt within six weeks.” There are none in the county in that category now.

Those rated at 4.5 are on Bogart’s “corrective list,” where work is needed but is not urgent. “They’re on our radar. If there’s something we can do to get it off the list, such as minor rehab, we’ll do it.”

Bridges in very good condition might be inspected every four years, but two years is the norm. Structurally deficient bridges are to be inspected at least once a year.

Next in Line

Bogart says the bridges in St. Lawrence County that are next in line for a large repair job are the two on County Rt. 47, the Knapps Station-Stockholm Center Road, where it crosses the West Branch of the St. Regis River. These two share an island for their substructure support.

The bridges were built in 1930. They carry about 590 vehicles a day, on average. They are categorized as structurally deficient because, while the substructure is rated at an acceptable 5, the superstructures and decks are put at 4.

“They are in the design process. We got money to get it designed. We anticipate putting it out to bid in 2016,” Bogart said.

DOT oversees the process, as it kicks in 15 percent of the cost of the project. The federal government pays for 80 percent, leaving five percent as the local share. “We can’t afford to do it alone,” Bogart said.

“We do at least one bridge a year, with the federal and state dollars. The feds rely on us to replace them. It’s all on a five-year plan, which is continually updated.

“Right now we’re working on the bridge on County Rt. 27, where it crosses the Middle Branch of the Grasse River in Clare,” just north of DeGrasse, Bogart said. It was built in 1956 and also carries about 590 vehicles a day. Its superstructure and substructure had been rated at 4.

The bridge over Grannis Brook along State Rt. 68 in the Town of Canton was also recently upgraded with a deck replacement. It had been rated at 4 before the state DOT did the work last year. It cost about $600,000.

Rating Standards

The national standard is that a bridge that has been officially rated structurally deficient needs to be repaired or monitored, according to Transportation for America (http://t4america.org/), a consortium of public and private housing, environmental, public health, business, and transportation interests.

Such a bridge is not necessarily unsafe, but it will require significant repair or replacement before long. Its condition could be such that a weight limit will be imposed until repairs can be done, or it could be closed, if its condition warrants it.

The bridge ratings are based on the condition of three main components: the deck, the superstructure, and the substructure. The deck carries the traffic; the superstructure holds up the deck; and the substructure, sitting on or in the ground, holds up the superstructure and its load.

Each of those components is rated by inspecting engineers. A 4 or lower on any part moves that bridge into the “structurally deficient” category.

There is also a category called “functionally obsolete,” a bridge that is not necessarily in need of repair; it was just built to old standards that make it, for instance, not wide enough for today’s traffic.

Those “structurally deficient” bridges are “not necessarily unsafe or shouldn’t be in service, but we do keep closer track of those. We don’t leave a bridge in service that shouldn’t be,” Flick said.