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AAA reports substandard N.C. bridges

By Staff
Staff Reports
Washington County has the smallest percentage of substandard bridges of all the counties in North Carolina, a recent study by the AAA Carolinas organization shows.
Thirty-three percent of the state's bridges are rated substandard, compared to the neighboring states of South Carolina (23 percent), Virginia (23 percent), Georgia (23 percent) and Tennessee (25 percent), according to the organization, which is headquartered in Charlotte.
North Carolina ranks 10th nationally for the most substandard bridges, AAA Carolinas officials say.
The Interstate 40 Business bridge in Forsyth County that passes over State Road 3875 ranks as the state's worst substandard bridge, the study showed – for the second year in a row.
"North Carolina needs to increase its funding for bridges and highway needs now," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, in a news release. "The longer we wait, the more expensive repairs and replacement becomes."
AAA Carolinas annually rates bridges to highlight the need for funding to improve the transportation systems in North Carolina and South Carolina.
"We provide this information so concerned motorists can contact their legislative representatives to advise them of the urgent need for more funding for bridge and highway maintenance, repair and renovation," Parsons added in the news release.
In the Daily News' four-county coverage area, the bridge with the worst rating – 47th on the AAA Carolinas list – was a structure identified as a "dirt" bridge on U.S. Highway 17 that was built in 1928. The study showed the bridge has an average daily traffic count of 17,000.
Next on the list – in the 70th slot – was a Norfolk Southern railroad bridge on U.S. 17 that was built in 1941. That structure's average daily traffic count is 21,000.
All of North Carolina's bridges classified by the state and federal governments as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete scored under 50 on a 100-point scale, where zero indicates a bridge should be closed, the AAA Carolinas news release notes. The dirt bridge scored a 5, while the Norfolk Southern bridge scored a 32.5.
A bridge over Broad Creek on N.C. Highway 32 in Beaufort County scored a 7, while a Tranters Creek bridge on State Road 1403 scored a 9, according to the AAA Carolinas study. The Broad Creek structure dates to 1953; the other, to 1935.
The draft 2004-2010 Transportation Improvement Plan for the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is scheduled to be approved by the General Assembly late this spring, calls for both those bridges to be replaced in Federal Fiscal Year 2006. (That fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.)
Beaufort County, which is in Division 2 for the NCDOT, had 50 bridges on the AAA Carolinas list, compared to three for Washington County; 24 for Martin County; and 15 for Hyde.
The lowest rating for a bridge in Martin County was a 16.9 for a structure identified as the Flat Swamp bridge on State Road 1159. Built in 1959, it has an average daily traffic count of 1,700.
In Hyde County, the structure with the lowest rating – 24.7 – was identified as a canal bridge on U.S. Highway 264. It was built in 1955 and has an average daily traffic count of 1,900.
The lowest rating for a bridge in Washington County was 48.5. That bridge crosses Conaby Creek on N.C. Highway 45. Built in 1967, it has an average of 2,600 vehicles cross it daily, according to the AAA Carolinas.
The current TIP in effect for NCDOT (project timetables run from 2002 through 2008), lists FFY 2003 as the time frame for the earliest bridge replacements in Beaufort County. The bridges are identified as the Pungo Creek Bridge on N.C. Highway 99 and the Big Swamp Bridge on State Road 1514.
The draft TIP pushes back both bridge projects by one year.
According to AAA Carolinas, the North Carolina county with the highest percentage of substandard bridges was Vance (56 percent) followed by Caswell (47 percent), Burke (46 percent) Hoke (46 percent) and Warren (44 percent).
Vance and Warren, which are neighboring counties on the border with Virginia, are the only two on that list from Eastern North Carolina.
The AAA Carolinas press release says none of the bridges listed in the study is in danger of collapsing, and none poses "an immediate threat at this time to motorists."
Lyndo Tippett, N.C. secretary of transportation, told AAA Carolinas officials that DOT identifies bridges in need of repair through an aggressive inspection and analysis program. If a structure is determined to be in urgent need of repair, he said, corrective action begins "as soon as possible," according to the AAA Carolinas news release.
AAA Carolinas officials say the state needs about $133 million for current bridge repair and maintenance work, but last year, it had only $45 million allocated for that work.
Replacing the state's deficient bridges would cost $1 billion, AAA Carolinas estimates, but DOT spends only about $100 million annually on the work; last year, the total number of aging bridges replaced was 134.