Arizona leads nation in safe bridges

KINGMAN - A study of the nation's bridges released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has found Arizona among the nation's best states when it comes to structural quality of bridges.

The report, titled "Bridging the Gap: Restoring and Rebuilding the Nation's Bridges," tallies the number of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in each state, then compares that to the total number of bridges.

Among all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Arizona had the lowest percentage of deficient bridges, with only 181 ranked "structurally deficient" and 600 "functionally obsolete," for a grand total of 781 deficient bridges, or just 10.6 percent of the state's total of 7,348.

These figures were substantially better than the national average of 25.4 percent, or 152,316 of the nearly 600,000 bridges across the country. Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island ranked among those states with the highest proportions of deficient bridges, totaling 44.8 percent, 51.3 percent and 52.9 percent, respectively.

Nearly 4,700 of Arizona's bridges fall under the purview of the Arizona Department of Transportation, and of these, fully 98.5 percent were rated in good or excellent condition, with only about 65 classified as "structurally deficient."

ADOT attributes this low percentage to a generally mild climate, the relatively recent construction of most bridges, and an annual investment of more than $20 million in the statewide Bridge Preservation program which contributes to the repair of as many as two dozen bridges a year.

The AASHTO study found only seven structurally deficient bridges of the 556 within ADOT's Kingman District, which covers Kingman, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City. The deficient bridges closest to Kingman include the Griffith Wash Bridge on I-40 about 10 miles to the city's south, and the Willow Creek Bridge No. 2, also located along I-40 about 35 miles to the east.

Another bridge identified as "structurally deficient" was the Bill Williams Bridge on State Route 95 south of Lake Havasu. That bridge was added to the list due to a diesel truck fire that damaged it in July 2006.

Repairs are currently under design and will be advertised for bids in spring or summer of 2009. A news release distributed by ADOT Public Information Officer Michele Beggs was quick to point out that "structurally deficient" only means a bridge requires some degree of repair.

It does not mean the bridge is in any way unsafe for public use.

"If a bridge were identified as being unsafe, it would be closed immediately until repairs are completed," the release stated. "ADOT would not allow traffic on any state highway bridge deemed to have immediate safety issues." In general, ADOT inspects bridges once every two years.

The AASHTO study is the latest in a series of high marks given to Arizona's bridges. According to ADOT, a 2007 report published by Time magazine found that Arizona had the safest network of bridges in the nation, and a year earlier the American Society of Civil Engineers had given Arizona an overall grade of A- for highway bridge safety.

Bridge safety has been a persistent nationwide concern following the collapse one year ago of the Interstate 35 Bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and wounded 145. It, too, had been deemed "structurally deficient" by the Minnesota Department of Transportation upon its final inspection on May 2, 2007, though "no imminent danger had been observed," according to a fact sheet published just days after the disaster.