CHARLOTTE (July 18, 2014) - Despite North Carolina investing nearly $500 million in state and federal funds to replace and repair bridges last year, more than 5,100 of the state's bridges still remain substandard.
The average age of the top 20 substandard bridges in the state is 51 years and those bridges carry an average of 54,200 vehicles daily, according to AAA Carolinas 17th annual substandard bridge ranking.
"While we've seen slight improvements in North Carolina's bridges in the last year, we still have a long way to go," said Dave E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "We need to find more resources to fund our state's transportation infrastructure needs."
North Carolina ranks 14th in the nation as having the highest share of rural bridges rated structurally deficient, according to federal data.
"We're seeing the positive results of our increased investment, which in the first three years is enabling us to upgrade about 1,000 more substandard bridges," said Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. "This is a good step forward, and with additional revenue, we could repair and replace even more of our deficient bridges to ensure motorist safety and better connect people to jobs, education, healthcare and recreation."
For the third year in a row the 59-year-old bridge over South Buffalo Creek in Greensboro ranks as North Carolina's top substandard bridge, according to AAA Carolinas.
The bridge overpass in Guilford County is located at the intersection of I-40 Business and I-85 Business and has been in the top two on AAA's substandard bridges list for the past seven years. It's scheduled to be replaced in 2019, reflecting a lack of current funding.
Second on AAA Carolinas' top 20 list is a bridge in Winston-Salem that carries I-40 Business traffic along Liberty Street. The Forsyth County structure is also 59 years old and is slated to be replaced in 2017. Listed third is another Guilford County bridge which carries vehicles across U.S. 220 Business and State Route 1452.
The counties with the most bridges in the top 20 are Forsyth and Buncombe counties with four each. Guilford follows with three, while Mecklenburg and Wake counties each have two bridges in the top 20. Eleven of the top 20 bridges have no work or replacement scheduled, mostly due to funding and other priorities.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for the safety of more than 13,500 bridges. While infrastructure needs have quickly grown, the funding has been at a much slower rate. The NCDOT estimates that it would cost $11 billion to bring all of the deficient bridges up to standard through repairs, and $16 billion to replace them.
The North Carolina legislature approved NCDOT to use about $800 million in state maintenance funds -- which come from state gas tax revenue -- between 2011 and 2015 to improve the condition of the state's bridges.
Since 2011, the percentage of the state's bridges rated in good condition has increased from just over 64 percent to more than 68 percent.
"Shifting funds to improve substandard bridges is a priority that requires continuing emphasis," said Parsons. "The legislature has to recognize that improved condition of our roads and bridges is a major economic incentive for new and continued business."
There are four bridges among the top 20 that were not ranked in the 2013 report. They are listed below with their 2014 ranking:
- I-440 across Hillsborough Street and the Norfolk & Southern Railroad in Wake County (6th)
- I-26 West across I-240 in Buncombe County (9th)
- I-240 across Access Road and Hominy Creek (17th)
- I-26 East across Clear Creek (19th)
Counties with the most substandard bridges are Buncombe (212), Guilford (176), Wake (163) and Wilkes (137). The counties with the highest percentage of substandard bridges are Dare County (60%), Macon County (59%) and Transylvania (58%).
Since 1998, AAA Carolinas has been rating the state's substandard bridges to highlight the need for legislative funding and to alert motorists about bridges they traverse. AAA's ratings are compiled from NCDOT data, while placing extra emphasis on the amount of traffic and how it affects motorists. While substandard bridges require repairs or replacement, they aren't deemed unsafe for drivers and are officially classified under federal guidelines as "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete."
"Structurally deficient" is defined as being in relatively poor physical condition and/or requires weight restrictions.
"Functionally obsolete" is defined as having inadequate design for current traffic volume. States inspect bridges every two years to determine their condition.
AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.9 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.
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See attached Substandard Bridges chart2014 NC Top 20 Substandard Bridges PDF