Bridge safety, federal report released

While I take responsibility for the safety of myself and my family, the last thing I want to have to think about when I hit the highway is how safe the roads or bridges might be.

The U.S. Government Accountability office recently released a report about bridge safety recently that, in short, stated: “Congress received a report today that says ‘one in four bridges in the United States is either structurally deficient and in need of repair, or functionally obsolete and is not adequate for today’s traffic.’” 

What does that mean for those of us who drive in Washington state?  Of the more than 3,600 bridges owned and maintained by the state, 97 percent are in good or fair condition.  That number ranks us 27 in the nation among states with the highest number of structurally deficient bridges. Yes, I paused at the word "structurally deficient," too.  Fortunately, it sounds more dramatic than it actually is. After doing some research, I found out that it is just a fancy engineering term for "still safe, but on the list to have some work done."

In light of this report, we wanted to make sure you knew that we are working hard to preserve and maintain our roads and bridges (see the June 2009 bridge assessment pdf).  Since 2000, we have invested nearly $850 million towards bridges (nearly half of that was spent on the Hood Canal Bridge project). The 2005 transportation funding package also provided $87 million to strengthen bridges in case of an earthquake.  More good news is that we are making progress on our most vulnerable structures, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR 520 floating bridge.  Want to learn more about what we are doing?  Be sure to check out the Gray Notebook where we have been reporting since 2001 about what we are doing to make sure our bridges remain safe.