6% of Maryland's Bridges Need Repairs, Report Says

Of the Top 10 Most Traveled Structurally Deficient Bridges in the State, none are located in the southern Maryland tri-county area.

By Alicia McElhaney

WASHINGTON-Maryland ranked 13th in the nation in 2014 for lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, which officials attribute to the state's focus on funding and safety inspections.

Although 6 percent of Maryland's bridges are in poor or worse condition, and while the state and its local governments designate a lower percentage of their highway and transportation funding for bridge repairs than most other states, officials say Maryland's bridge program is doing well.

"Our bridges are in really good shape," said Charlie Gischlar, spokesperson for the State Highway Administration (SHA). "There are a few that are starting to outlive their natural lives, though."

The report containing the rankings was released Wednesday by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a group that advocates for infrastructure and transportation investment. Of the state's 5,305 bridges, the report showed that 317 are structurally deficient, which means at least one of the bridges' parts - the deck, superstructure or substructure - are in poor condition.

The association's report is based on their analysis of the recently-released 2014 U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) National Bridge Inventory database. The data is provided to the federal agency by the states.

The State Highway Administration is responsible for far fewer bridges than the reported number, which includes bridges maintained by the federal and county governments as well as by railroad companies, Gischlar said.

The SHA is responsible for 2,570 bridges, 81 of which are in need of repair, Gischlar said. Of those, 21 already have construction underway, he added, including the most traveled structurally deficient bridge- the inner loop of Interstate 695 over U.S. Route 1, Amtrak and Leeds Avenue.

"If [the bridges] are not under construction, they are awaiting it," Gischlar said. "Every two years at least we inspect the bridges."

The state designates 25 percent of highway and bridge contract awards for bridge construction, approximately $1.01 billion over the past five years according to the report. On average, a state directs 29 percent of that sort of funding to bridge repairs, according to the report.

"One thing that Maryland is doing right with the initiative they passed years ago [is increasing] funding to transportation," Alison Black, chief economist at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said. "The challenge is that state officials are trying to do the best they can. There is not enough money right now."

States have been left in limbo, uncertain about how much money transportation departments will see after May 31, as a self-imposed Congressional deadline to renew federal transportation funds looms.

"In addition to putting our families in danger, aging infrastructure drags down economic growth," said Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac in a press release. "Marylanders deserve better, and with the Highway Trust Fund on the brink of insolvency, it's critical that Congress enact a long-term plan to bring our out-of-date infrastructure up to speed."

And while Congress delays, structurally deficient bridges can, in rare cases, harm drivers.

"Just this past February, a chunk of concrete fell from the I-495/95 Bridge located in Morningside over Suitland Road in Prince George's County," Ragina Cooper Averella, Public and Government Affairs Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in an email. "The bridge was listed on the structurally deficient list . As a result of that incident, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn ordered the immediate inspection of 27 bridges, a move that AAA Mid-Atlantic applauded."

While actual hazards like bridge collapses or falling chunks of concrete are rare, Black said, drivers still need to be concerned.

"That's the extreme case of what happens when we don't deal with our infrastructure problems," Black said. "People need to let it be known that they care about investing in infrastructure…the amount of investment to really move the needle and improve some of the conditions."

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