In the Charlotte region, Cabarrus County ranks worst among Charlotte-area counties in its percentage of bridges rated deficient, according to a recent national report by Transportation for America. North Carolina ranks No. 14 nationwide, with 13 percent of bridges deficient.
One in nine highway bridges in the nation are classified structurally deficient, meaning they require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
While 47 of the 155 N.C. DOT-maintained bridges are classified structurally deficient, 29 of those have a sufficiency rating of less than 50 percent, and 15 of those 29 bridges are scheduled for replacement.
Garland Haywood, N.C. DOT's division bridge maintenance engineer, said there isn't a bridge in the Charlotte region that is unsafe for public travel.
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"Specific structural issues are varied; elements that comprise the bridge are typically the issue and may be addressed through replacement of those elements or the whole structure," said Haywood. Replacing the whole bridge is the best course in some cases, he said, because of cost or because development has made the bridge obsolete.
David Goldberg is the communications director for Transportation for America, a national nonprofit that recently headed a national report on infrastructure quality. The coalition of more than 500 national, state and local organizations represent the people who travel U.S. highways and use public transportation. He said the nation's aging infrastructure is cause for concern.
"It's true structurally deficient does not necessarily mean unsafe for travel, but it does mean that a bridge is in need of constant monitoring or critical repair in the near-term," said Goldberg. "What happens with these bridges is when they reach a certain level of deterioration, that deterioration tends to accelerate, so you do have to keep an eye on them."
Congress will take up a six-year transportation bill later this year to determine how to allocate the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, the source of funding for most of the federal government's surface transportation programs. Transportation for America's recommendation is that congress "wall off a significant share of the money for maintenance and repair."
Future improvements will come via replacement, preservation operations or rehabilitation activates equivalent to significant maintenance operations, said Haywood.
"N.C. DOT and this division that includes Cabarrus County are continuously striving to take proactive measures to replace or improve our bridges and roads," said Haywood.
The average lifespan of a bridge is about 50 years, and the average age of bridges throughout the nation is 42, said Goldberg. The average age for bridges in North Carolina is 36.
"We have a very large, aging system, and we can't afford new projects before maintaining the old," said Goldberg, who encourages residents to check with N.C. DOT for progress updates or to contact local representatives and ask them to support legislation that promotes repairs before building new bridges.
"One in four bridges is a cause for concern," said Goldberg.
"But we're not trying to scare people. We're not saying they're in imminent danger, but one in four bridges is a level where there is a need for immediate maintenance. ... A lot are over the 50-year lifespan.
"North Carolina has a little younger infrastructure than most states, but some parts have much older bridges."