Richmond area bridges on VDOT watch list

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - How safe are the bridges you drive over every day in the Richmond area? There are 2,700 of them in metro area and 9 percent are considered structurally deficient.

We go behind the scenes with the people who inspect the bridges. We take a look at which ones are the worst, the oldest and the ones that are most cracked and crumbling.

The government demands bridge inspections every two years.  But for those bridges like we found that have peeling paint, rusted bolts, corroded metal, uneven pavement, even cracks -- inspections come annually.

We met with Gary Martin, who is in charge of VDOT's bridge inspecting program, at the Hermitage Road Bridge at Interstate 95 in Richmond and asked them to show us what they look for.

"Maybe even some cracking. You can see there's some additional cracking right here on both sides. So, that's an indication you are having some corrosion on the rebarb," Martin said, as he walked through a bridge inspection.

Video from VDOT of an actual inspection shows that bucket trucks are brought out and lanes are often closed as inspectors go over nearly every inch of the bridge. Those that aren't quite up to today's standards -- that may have crumbling concrete and cracks -- are considered structurally deficient.

"It doesn't mean that they're not safe. If there was a safety problem we would address it immediately," Martin said.

Many well-known bridges in our region are on VDOT's radar. The Huguenot Bridge is easily one of the worst and it is being replaced. The Lombardy Bridge over the railroad tracks in Richmond's Northside is the oldest -- it's about to celebrate 110 years in use. Also on the list, the Genito Road Bridge in Chesterfield.

Built in 1913, the Mayo in downtown Richmond is the oldest bridge spanning the James River. Richmond is deciding right now whether it's worth it to repair this bridge or just replace it.

Even the Nickel Bridge (Boulevard Bridge) is on the watch list, it just turned 86 years old.

"I think we can get it to a hundred. I think it's got a lot of life," said David Caudill with the Richmond Metropolitan Authority.

The RMA operates the Nickel Bridge. He says the bridge had a good inspection last year. The deck you drive on was rehabbed in  1993 and it was painted and repaired in 2008.

"As long as it's being maintained and inspected on a routine basis. and you address any issues that come up. the bridge has a longer life," Caudill said.

Until now there was no way for you to know which bridges in our region are on the VDOT watch list. We dug through pages of information on the thousands of bridges in greater Richmond to find the ones considered structurally deficient. We researched their locations and pinpointed them on a map, even, telling you just how old they are.

To eventually replace them all would cost the region hundreds of millions of dollars. In all we located 63 bridges on VDOT's watch list in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield.

If you want to see the inspection reports for all the bridges found on the watch list, you are not allowed. VDOT and then Attorney General Bob McDonnell banned them from the public for security reasons. The documents often contain pictures and expose the weakest parts of the bridge.

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