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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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1,837 La. bridges deemed structurally deficient

1,837 La. bridges deemed structurally deficient

SHREVEPORT — Louisiana is one of only 10 states with more structurally deficient bridges in 2014 than the prior year, according to a federation of consumer advocacy groups federal data.

Federal Highway Administration data from 2014 show the state has nearly 13,000 bridges, and 1,837 of them are structurally deficient, according to the United States Public Interest Research Group.

The report comes as Louisiana grapples with a $12 billion backlog in deferred road and bridge maintenance, The Times reported. And state and federal gas taxes, which provide money for transportation infrastructure, are flat and failing to keep up with inflation.

John Olivieri, the US PIRG's national campaign director for 21st Century Transportation, said hard FHA data highlights the state's spending priorities.

"It's not just the numbers are increasing. It's just that there's such a staggering amount in the first place," he said.

Structurally deficient doesn't mean a bridge is unsafe. It simply means one or more components of a bridge are in need of repairs or replacement.

Such bridges are "more prone to safety issues in the future," Olivieri said. "They become more expensive to fix in the future."

Louisiana has a history of spending money on interstates instead of paying to maintain existing roadways and bridges, State Sen. Robert Adley said.

He says a portion of the state's Transportation Trust Fund ends up in the state police budget. The state has diverted $418 million in transportation dollars to state police since 2005, according to a House budget analyst.

Louisiana has put $1.8 billion into bridge repair and about $7 billion in road improvements since January 2008, said Lauren Lee, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

"The state appears to favor building new and wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance," Olivieri said in a statement.

Eric Kalivoda, Department of Transportation and Development deputy secretary, told the state's House appropriations committee March 24 the department forecasts Louisiana will have serious problems with the condition of its bridges in 10 years.

Kalivoda said the vast majority of those bridges were built in late 50s through the early 1970s. The bridges are reaching their design life and deficiencies will grow substantially.

"We are going to do something about it or we're going to be closing a lot of bridges," he said.

The Federal Highway Administration will not designate a bridge built or rehabilitated in the last 10 years structurally deficient. The bridge's deck, substructures, superstructures, culvert and retaining walls are inspected.

A bad enough flaw in one or more of those pieces can earn it the structurally deficient designation.

Louisiana has nearly 13,000 bridges and 1,837 are structurally deficient bridges. States and parishes own 92 percent of those deficient bridges and the rest belong to cities, parks and railroad companies.

A separate study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) found the number of structurally deficient bridges nationwide decreased by 2,000 last year to more than 61,000.

The ARTBA ranked Louisiana 14th in the number of structurally deficient bridges and 9th by percentage.

Every day, cars, buses and trucks travel across Louisiana's structurally deficient bridges 4.8 million times a day, according to the ARTBA.

Bridges by the numbers:
• Over 61,000: Structurally deficient bridges in the United States
• 1,837: Structurally deficient bridges in the Louisiana
• 11: Structurally deficient bridges in Louisiana owned by the Federal government
• 14th: Louisiana's ranking for number of structurally deficient bridges
• 9th: Louisiana's ranking for percentage of structurally deficient bridges