ANNAPOLIS – A Capital News Service study of deteriorating bridges in Maryland found that state and county engineering teams were keeping up with bridge maintenance, having repaired, replaced or started work on 21 of 23 targeted bridges.
Of the 23 bridges investigated, engineers had already replaced or refurbished 10 and 11 were in the planning stages for repair. No action was scheduled on the remaining 2 bridges.
For this study, CNS used the National Bridge Inventory database to identify 23 bridges, out of the more than 5,000 in the state, which had received a rating of `poor’ or worse in three structural categories, or a rating of `critical’ in one or more of those categories.
The federal government requires states to inspect all bridges over 20 feet in length at least every two years and report their findings to the Federal Highway Administration, which places this data in the National Bridge Inventory.
One such bridge, carrying Roland Avenue over Roland Run in Baltimore County, was fixed “before it got to be a real problem,” said Allen Crites, a foreman with PDI Sheets, the company that built the new bridge.
The people from the Baltimore County engineer’s office showed up last September, and said the beams under the bridge over Roland Run were rusted, said Nancy Reitz, who lives next to the span.
The workers told her “you could see daylight through the beams,” and they were going to start work on a replacement – it would take three or four months, she said.
But the winter storms slowed the construction crews down a bit, and it wasn’t until Wednesday that the new bridge finally opened, and Reitz was the first one across.
Engineering offices recognize that “there’s a lot of liability (with bridge safety,)” and take their responsibilities “very seriously,” said Dan Hardisky, an engineer with Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Engineering and Construction’s Structures Section.
Maryland does a fairly good job keeping its bridges maintained, and is probably in the top third or quarter of the states, said professor Chung Fu, director of the Bridge Engineering Software & Technology Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Older bridges were built with a life expectancy of 50 years, but the specification now calls for bridges to last 75 to 80 years, with deck replacements every 10 to 15 years, he said.
Of the two bridges without repair or replacement plans, one, the Old Williams Road Bridge over Town Creek in Allegany County, may never be improved, said Kevin Beachy, the county engineer.
The bridge was built in 1910, and it would cost $600,000 to $700,000 to replace the bridge, which is crossed by just nine or 10 cars on an average day, Beachy said.
Still rated to carry more than 6,000 pounds, the federally mandated minimum load, the bridge is redundant, and may simply be shut down, rather than rehabilitated, he said.
The other, the Park Valley Road bridge over Sligo Creek in Montgomery County, is approaching the end of its life cycle and no decision has been reached whether to repair or replace the bridge, said Mike Riley, chief of the Park Development Division for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
In addition to bridge inspections, monitoring weight limits are also important to ensuring bridge safety.
Compliance with weight limits is split among county police departments, the State Police and the State Highway Administration, using a combination of weigh stations, patrol cars, and special units that monitor commercial traffic, said Sgt. James Rosso of the State Police Commercial Enforcement Unit.
The State Police’s 10 weigh stations and 18 roving teams, consisting of a trooper and either a civilian inspector or a cadet, issued 15,505 citations in 2002, he said.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich withdrew $300 million from the transportation trust fund to balance the budget, but that should have little effect on bridge maintenance, said Joe Miller, chief of the State Highway Administration’s Bridge Inspection and Remedial Engineering Division.
“(For the) inspection and a remedial program that I am responsible for, the state has always been able to give me the money that I need,” said Miller. “And from what I’ve heard, system preservation is going to be maintained.”
For Reitz, the opening of the new Roland Run bridge was a mixed blessing – it would make it easier for residents to get around, but it would also make her street busier, and she had come to appreciate the peace and quiet.
But she was glad that it had been replaced before it became a problem, she said.
“I’m happy there’s someone out there inspecting the bridges.” – 30-