Thursday's bridge collapse in Washington State may have you wondering how safe the bridges are that you travel across every day here in Ohio.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are 2,643 bridges in Franklin and surrounding counties and 226 of them are classified as “structurally deficient.”
County engineers across central Ohio are quick to point out that the bridge in Washington did not even have a problem of being structurally deficient. The problem there is blamed on a semi-truck hitting an overhead portion of the bridge.
“Certain bridge designs have certain inherent weaknesses,” said Madison County engineer Steve Brand.
Brand pointed to a portion of a closed bridge on Rosedale-Plain City Road and said, ”If a garbage truck went off the side of the road and hit the end of this right here, the bridge would fall right down."
Brand said he cannot control what a motorist is going to do, but he can do his best to keep his county’s bridges as safe as possible. That is why Madison County closed the bridge on Rosedale-Plain City Road in 2010.
"We got to the point where we could not guarantee its safety and had to close it,” he said.
Ohio law requires engineers to inspect every bridge in the state, every year. The federal requirement is only once every two years.
Brand said bridges are inspected and given a rating between zero and 9.
"Once it goes below 5, it is deemed to be structurally deficient,” he said. “A zero or one rating would lead to a bridge closure.”
Brand said being rated structurally deficient does not necessarily mean a bridge is unsafe, but it means there is deterioration. Deterioration is something Brand said he is seeing more and more on his county's bridges.
Brand has six bridges scheduled to be replaced over the next three years. He said ideally Madison County would move more quickly in replacing bridges, but cannot afford it.
"My budget is just over $4 million a year, and I have needs of $9 million worth of bridges to replace,” he said. "We have to take those bridges almost down to the point where we're concerned about the safety and the ability for it to function before we get in to replace that bridge."
But even though a bridge might look unsafe to the untrained eye, Brand said bridges are not always meant to look good.
"They're meant to carry the load,” he said.
That ability is something Brand guarantees about his county’s bridges. He says if a bridge is not safe, he will close it.
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