VDOT working to address aging bridges across the commonwealth

VDOT working to address aging bridges across the commonwealth
Thousands of Virginians depend on the commonwealth's 21,000 bridges to get where they need to go. (Source: WDBJ)

Va. (WDBJ7)-- Thousands of Virginians depend on the commonwealth's 21,000 bridges to get where they need to go. As many critical bridges are aging, VDOT is working to stay ahead of the curve to prevent problems down the road.

In the last decade, the Virginia Department of Transportation has focused on reducing the amount of problematic bridges across the commonwealth.

In 2009, there were about 1,7000 bridges classified as "structurally deficient." According to VDOT, there are roughly 450 structurally deficient bridges to date.

WDBJ7 reviewed data on the federal and state level and determined that about 150 of those structurally deficient bridges are in the WDBJ7 viewing area.

Structurally deficient bridges, bridges that need significant repairs or need to be replaced, include the bridge over the Dan River in Downtown Danville, a bridge along Interstate 81 in Christiansburg that carries tens of thousands a day and a bridge over Ivy Creek in Lynchburg.

"It is not a concern because of our constant monitoring and because of our training and our inspection," said Adam Matteo, an Assistant State Bridge Engineer for VDOT.

Matteo is responsible for bridge maintenance and repairs. He said that 450 is an accomplishment from where they were, insisting that the bridges are safe to drive on.

Matteo added that problems on a bridge are not always visible to a driver, but the bridges are constantly inspected, regardless. Inspectors are required to check structurally deficient bridges annually and Matteo said someone always has eyes on them. If a bridge ever reaches a critical level, it is VDOT's policy to shut it down.

After years of focusing on the worst of the worst bridges in Virginia, Matteo and the team at VDOT say it is time for a change in investment strategy.

Instead, they want to focus on the bridges that are rated in the middle. About 4,400 bridges across the commonwealth have received a "fair" rating and are on the cusp of becoming structurally deficient.

"This is the time. We can extend them into decades of additional service, but we have to act now," said Matteo.

It is one of the reasons why VDOT is suggesting a change. They usually spend about 75 percent of their funding for bridges on replacements and 25 percent on preservation. They want to flip those numbers.

"We need to hold the gains that we have made over the past decade," said Matteo. "We don't want to fall back into the place that we were ten years ago."

We shared the bridge data with Delegate Terry Austin who serves on the transportation committee.

"Investing dollars in maintenance saves us dollars in the end in replacement," said Austin.

If VDOT changes strategies and focuses on preserving, they say they won't need an increase in funding to make it happen. It is an effort to continue monitoring bridges that are still in the worst of the worst category and keep more from getting there.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will decide if they would like to shift focus. The decision will then be taken up with state lawmakers. VDOT representatives said it is an ongoing process, but one that they are taking very seriously.

“It is critical. We need to act now,” said Matteo. “And we are.”

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