Report: 15% of N.H. bridges 'structurally deficient'
More than 15 percent of the bridges in New Hampshire are structurally deficient, compared to just 11.5 percent nationally, according to a national report on the nation's bridges."Structurally deficient" is an engineering designation given to bridges with a major defect in either their support structure or deck that requires significant maintenance or repair and eventual rehabilitation or replacement.A structurally deficient designation does not mean the bridge is unsafe for use, but that it has problems to address and requires more frequent inspections."If it's unsafe, we close it," said Bill Boynton, public information officer for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. That's what happened in December 2010, when the 88-year-old Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth - the state's highest-priority red-listed bridge - was closed for a week for an urgent repair.The national report, which was released by Transportation for America, said New Hampshire was the 11th worst state in the nation for its percentage of structurally deficient bridges."Drivers in New Hampshire are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges with 'poor' ratings - bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair," stated the report.Of the state's 2,408 highway bridges, 372 are structurally deficient, it said. The report also found the average age of the state's bridges to be 49.7 years, older than the national average of 42 years.Boynton said getting bridges off the red list is a "slow slug" - while working to remove some bridges from the red list, others get added.He said the recently passed House budget would result in a loss of about $25 million to $29 million per year in projects over the DOT's 10-year budget plan, which could result in fewer of the red-list bridges undergoing repairs, along with a delay in ongoing preservation work.For example, the $14 million planned replacement of the Sewalls Falls Road bridge in Concord, planned for 2012, would be dropped due to budget restrictions, said Boynton."We're concerned we're basically going to be in crisis mode responding to things that have gone wrong rather than keeping things in good shape," said Boynton.Several of the state's structurally deficient bridges are crossed by more than 60,000 vehicles daily, including the bridges at the junction of Interstate 93 and Route 111A and at I-293 and the F.E. Everett Turnpike, the report said."There's a growing realization we're going to lose positions and funding," said Boynton. "We'll continue to do what we can to maintain and keep the system in good shape, but that will definitely be tested." -- KATHLEEN CALLAHAN/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW