By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Of the more than 6,500 bridges in New Jersey, nearly 10 percent of them are structurally deficient. That’s according to a national report by Transportation for America, a lobbying group.
“A structurally deficient rating means that either the superstructure, the bridge deck, the traveling surface or the substructure is in need of significant repair, but it is still safe for motorists to use,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Dee.
The report ranked New Jersey 26th in the nation for the condition of its bridges. Neighboring Pennsylvania was rated the worst — with a 24.5 deficient rate — and New York ranked 17th — with a 12.5 deficient rate. New Jersey has made progress in tackling its to-do list of needed repairs since the 2011 report.
“There’s about 315 that are structurally deficient. So we’re making really good headway in knocking bridges off that list. Just three years ago, it was 357. Now we’re down to 315,” Dee said.
“It’s misleading to look at the gross number of bridges and say, ‘well the number’s come down,’ cause honestly that will give some people a fall sense of security and think the problem is getting better and it’s not as urgent. And it really is an urgent problem,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Case in point, says Wisniewski, is the I-5 bridge that collapsed in Washington state last month.
“When we look around the nation and we see a truck hit a bridge out on the west coast and fall into the river, this is a sign that our infrastructure is aging, and it is not being properly maintained ,” Wisniewski said.
Age is a factor. Most bridges are designed to last about 50 years before major overhaul or replacement. The average age of New Jersey bridges is 52. For structurally deficient spans, the average age is higher at 79. Everyone agrees repairs are needed, but how much it will cost is up for debate.
“This year, the proposed capital … for FY14 allocates $787 million to bridges, and of that total, there’s also $25 million in state aid to counties to help them knock a few of their structurally deficient bridges off the list as well,” Dee said.
“But we’re talking about a program that requires over a $1.6 billion every year, and that’s just to keep things from falling apart. That’s not to make any major improvements, Wisniewski said. “That’s real money. We’re not collecting it right now. Where we’re doing it on debt, we need to change that.”
Transportation advocates are also calling for more funding. They say the investment made today in maintenance and repairs will improve safety and may reduce the need for more expensive overhauls in the future.