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2 Meck bridges among N.C.’s ‘substandard’

Two Mecklenburg County bridges are among the 20 most substandard in North Carolina, according to the annual survey released Friday by AAA Carolinas.

No. 1 on the list is the Interstate 40 bridge over South Buffalo Creek in Greensboro – a structure that has ranked as the most substandard in five of the last six years.

The two Mecklenburg bridges ranked among the worst are on Interstate 485 at Interstate 85 in the northern part of the county, and on the John Belk Freeway over South Clarkson Street near uptown.

The I-485 bridge is being replaced this year, but it could be seven years before there is relief for the John Belk Freeway span, according to N.C. Department of Transportation documents.

AAA officials say none of the bridges poses an immediate threat to motorists.

AAA Carolinas president David Parsons says the bridge problem is a matter of money.

“Inadequate funding for road and bridge maintenance over the past decade means we still have a significant number of substandard bridges,” Parsons said. “We need to find new sources of funding for our state’s Department of Transportation.”

The DOT has spent more than $450 million over the last two years to repair or replace 470 structurally deficient bridges. An additional $300 million is proposed for similar projects during the next two years.

AAA Carolinas has ranked the state’s bridges for 15 years, using data from the N.C. Department of Transportation. The AAA says it gives extra consideration to the number of vehicles using a bridge.

The substandard bridges fall under one of two federal categories – “structurally deficient,” which means a bridge is either in poor physical condition or inadequate to handle truck weight; or “functionally obsolete,” which means the bridge is not designed properly for current traffic volume.

The I-485 bridge in northern Mecklenburg, built in 1967, is ranked fourth most substandard in the state and is considered structurally deficient. The bridge is scheduled for replacement, as part of the completion of I-485 between I-85 and N.C. 115.

The state DOT is spending $92.2 million to build a new interchange at I-485 and I-85, and the bridge is scheduled for replacement by November, according to AAA.

It is being replaced by a “turbine interchange,” which is designed to improve the flow of traffic through the congestion of the two interstate highways.

The completion of I-485 from I-85 to N.C. 115 is scheduled for late 2014.

That bridge carries about 371,000 vehicles a week, according to state figures.

No quick solution is in sight for the John Belk Freeway bridge over South Clarkson Street, which is near the interchange with I-77.

That structure is considered functionally obsolete. Built in 1954, it is among the oldest of the substandard bridges. AAA says a DOT project to add a westbound lane could help with the traffic flow.

But the state transportation board decided in April 2012 to delay the addition of a westbound lane, a $3.65 million project, from 2016 until July 2020.

Garland Haywood, bridge program manager for the DOT’s regional office in Albemarle, said Friday that the John Belk Freeway bridge is structurally in good shape.

“The safety to the traveling public that uses this bridge is in no way at risk,” he said.

According to AAA, about 581,000 vehicles use that bridge each week. That makes it the second-busiest among the 20 most substandard bridges.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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