Report: 515 Montana bridges ‘structurally deficient’

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A vehicle crosses a bridge on East Evergreen Drive over Spring Creek in Evergreen on Tuesday. The bridge has been identified as “structurally deficient” by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. (Matt Baldwin/Daily Inter Lake)

More of Montana’s bridges need repairs, according to a new report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based infrastructure industry association released its 2018 Deficient Bridge Report, a state-by-state look at crossings in need of repair. Using Federal Highway Administration data, the report’s authors found that 515 of Montana’s 5,302 bridges rank as “structurally deficient,” a 10.8 percent increase from last year.

Inspectors regularly assess bridges’ components on a scale from 0 (failed) to 9 (excellent). If any major component rates 4 or lower, it’s considered “structurally deficient.”

Data provided by the association’s media relations manager Eileen Houlihan show that 74 of Montana’s structurally deficient bridges are in Flathead, Lincoln and Lake counties, up from 63 last year. One of these, which carries Montana 40 over the Whitefish River, was the fifth-most travelled deficient bridge in the state, with nearly 12,000 daily crossings.

The 43-year-old span’s deck was found to be in “poor condition.” Justun Juelfs, Maintenance Chief for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) Kalispell Division, said that the bridge’s deck is scheduled for a replacement, and that the project will go out to bid this upcoming summer.

Other problematic Kalispell-area bridges include those carrying East Evergreen Drive over Spring Creek, and Montana 82 over the Flathead River. Several of the bridges that support U.S. 2 and U.S. 93 also got poor marks.

In an email, Juelfs said that MDT concurred with the most recent increase. But longer-term trends in Montana’s infrastructure health are disputed. The State Transportation Improvement Program says that 800 bridges were deficient in 2007. The Association, meanwhile, cites National Bridge Inventory data that 489 bridges were deficient a decade ago.

Looking ahead, Juelfs said that “eight of the structures listed on the ‘Top Most Traveled Structurally Deficient Bridges in Montana’ list are nominated as MDT projects.” A table he sent to the Daily Inter Lake shows that repairs and replacement work were either completed in 2017 or will be by 2020. The two remaining bridges on the Top Ten list, one of which is in Missoula and one in Great Falls, are currently being evaluated.

Other deficient crossings for key highways in the area are also being updated, Juelfs said. The U.S. 2 bridges in Troy and West Glacier are set to have their steel superstructures repaired in 2020. The new U.S. 2 bridge in Hungry Horse is set to open in the fall.

Juelfs said that recent state budget cuts have not impacted bridge upkeep funds.

Visit www.artbabridgereport.org for more information.

Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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