Last Modified: Monday, April 14, 2014 12:42 PM
A recent report from the legislative auditor said the state Department of Transportation and Development should inspect bridges more often, regularly update its bridge inspection records and better indicate which bridges require a load rating.
The report said 1,806 of the state’s 12,905 bridges were considered structurally deficient last year — up from the 1,758 bridges found during a 2012 audit.
In Calcasieu Parish, 50 of 457 bridges also had this label, including the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River. Structurally deficient bridges were also found in Allen, Beauregard, Cameron, Jeff Davis and Vernon parishes.
The I-10 bridge has been noted in other publications for being dangerous. A 2013 Travel and Leisure magazine article, “America’s Most Dangerous Bridges,” ranked the I-10 bridge No. 7 on its list, with a sufficiency rating of 9.9 out of 100.
The audit said the DOTD was compliant with nine of the Federal Highway Administration’s 23 performance measures and was “substantially or conditionally compliant” with the other 14 conditions. Considering the 60,000-plus vehicles that cross the I-10 bridge daily, it is critical that the department improve on its bridge inspections.
Another issue is the state’s $2.7 billion backlog in bridge and maintenance construction projects. According to the DOTD’s annual State Highway and Bridge Needs report, just over $1.1 billion of that backlog includes work on three structurally deficient bridges, including the I-10 bridge.
DOTD officials said the department continues to inspect the state’s bridges to ensure safety. To improve the process, most local districts have added an engineer and another team of bridge inspectors.
Officials said that if inspectors find bridges with major changes, they are inspected more frequently, have load limits posted or are closed. If a bridge is considered unsafe, it will be closed for repairs or replacement.
Of the 1,806 structurally deficient bridges, the state has to maintain just over 40 percent of them. The other 60 percent are maintained mainly by local government agencies.
It appears state transportation officials are taking steps to make sure bridges are inspected regularly, but the process could be better. But that isn’t enough.
The state should also address the backlog of bridge projects, especially when one local bridge has tens of thousands of cars travel over it each day.