KBTX | Bryan & College Station, TX | Aggieland News

Outdated Bridges in Need of Repair

By: Natasha Sweatte Email
By: Natasha Sweatte Email

Commuters drive across bridges on a regular basis and serve as a vital portion of a daily commute. However, the question of safety remains. News 3 takes an in-depth look at the bridges throughout the Brazos Valley, to see exactly how well they're maintained.

Commuters drive across bridges on a regular basis and serve as a vital portion of a daily commute. However, the question of safety remains. News 3 takes an in-depth look at the bridges throughout the Brazos Valley, to see exactly how well they're maintained.

Texas is famous for its larger than average size. Just think Texas BBQ, boots, or hair; even the actual size of the state is big. So it comes as no surprise that Texas has 89 percent more bridges than any other state; according to TX DOT, there are a whopping 53,000 bridges in the Lone Star state.

Bobby Colwell, Spokesman for TX DOT said the Bryan District office covers 10 counties and are responsible for inspecting of 12,019 on system bridges. Although off system bridges are owned and operated by the County, TX DOT also inspects the 627 off system bridges at least every two years. If a problem is noted before then, Colwell said it will be examined before its scheduled inspection.

"There's a lot of time, we go underwater to look at the bridges to see if anything has been decaying underneath there," said Colwell.

While TX DOT expects a bridge in Texas to last around 44 years, when repairs are needed, Colwell explained just how quickly costs can add up. Cities compete for the funding and the majority of the time, they are paid through bonds and appropriations.

"The definitions for the deficient bridge and functionally obsolete come from the Federal Highway Administration and it all boils down to funding," Colwell explained.

The Federal Highway Administration has a zero to 100 grading scale; according to federal standards, anything below 50 needs to be repaired. The FHA gives 55 percent of the bridge's grade according to the structural condition of the bridge, 30 percent is graded on service ability, and 15 percent is graded on how essential it is to public use. According to Colwell, structurally deficient bridges have maintenance concerns but aren't posing any safety risks. He said functionally obsolete bridges likely met design standards during construction, but as years pass and traffic grows, the original design is sometimes no longer sufficient.

"It may need to be widened a little longer or things of that nature," said Colwell.

Construction for the bridge off state highway 105 over the Brazos River will begin early next year; this bridge is in connection with 2 more bridges in Grimes and Washington County. TX DOT officials said the total cost for the project is an estimated $24 million, well above the regular projected on system bridge price of $600,000 to $2 million.

"The traffic has increased out there," said Colwell.

Statistics prove that indeed more people are moving to Texas. In fact, according to the US Census, 8 of the 15 fastest growing cities were in the Lone Star state. Numbers from the Census also indicate the Brazos County alone has grown nearly 28 percent since 2000.

"We have a thousand new Texans coming to Texas every day and so that means we have more people on our facilities and we have more people going on our bridges," said Colwell.

With an increased population naturally calls for more responsibility. Colwell said it's something TX DOT doesn't take lightly.

"That scares people when they hear that because they think it's going to fall like it did in Minnesota and that's not the case at all," Colwell expressed. "Safety is our top priority at TX Dot and if these bridges were not safe, we would not put traffic on them."

The bridge off State Highway 105 is the only functionally obsolete bridge in the Brazos County; there are 3 in Grimes County and 3 in Robertson County. There are no bridges in need of repair in Walker County or in Madison County.


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