Aging bridges lead to funding challenges

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by Megan Trent

INDIANA (September 25, 2014) - Bridges could become the source of funding challenges for the Indiana Department of Transporation in the coming years.

Most bridges, says Will Wingfield with INDOT, were built when the interstates were constructed in the 60s and 70s. As a result, many are getting relatively close to their 75 year life expectancy. Even though many could last for decades to come, many others are already in need of improvements.

INDOT is responsible for about 5,400 bridges in Indiana. Currently, about 8% are considered to be in poor condition.

"We're meeting or very near our various performance targets for bridges," says Wingfield. "We're looking into the future at what happens when a lot of these bridges from the interstate system that were all built in the 60s and 70s come of age."

Every public bridge is inspected every other year, and its condition is rated on a 1-9 scale. If it is rated 4 or below, the bridge is considered to be in poor condition.

"That doesn't mean that they are structurally unsafe," says Wingfield. "We have a term in our industry for a bridge that's unsafe, and that's 'closed.'"

With so many bridges reaching their expected life span, the number of bridges in poor condition could reach 12.5% within the next ten years if more money isn't allocated for bridge preservation, says Wingfield.

In 2014, $273 million is being dedicated to bridge preservation. Funding would have to increase to $331 million by 2024 to maintain the current level of 8% of bridges in poor condition, says Wingfield. That's an increase of $58 million, and Winfield says it would take significantly more to keep the levels under 8%.

While steps are already being taken to plan for the increase in needed funds, Wingfield says there needs to be a larger conversation about long term solutions.

"We haven't specifically identified any of those solutions. At this point it is primarily about education, to let people know what we're trying to do and to make strategic investments now."

He says the department is already reducing operating expenses and is focused on being proactive.

"We're pushing as much money as we can into maintenance and into preservation so that we are proactively maintaining this, trying to extend its service life so that it stays in good condition for longer."