A federal report has ranked Illinois third in terms of the number of structurally deficient bridges nationwide.
Nine Percent Are Deficient
The Federal Highway Administration recently released its National Bridge Inventory (NBI), which assesses the condition of bridges across the country, rating each aspect of a bridge on a scale from “Good” to “Poor.” When one of a bridge’s key elements is in poor or worse condition, the NBI classifies it as “structurally deficient.”
According to the NBI, Illinois has the third-largest number of structurally deficient bridges in the United States, with 2,405 failing to make the grade as of January 2022. The state ranks 14th in terms of the percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient, with a total of nine percent in need of repair. (Iowa ranks first in the nation for the number of structurally deficient bridges, while West Virginia leads in terms of the percentage, with 20.4 percent deemed unsatisfactory.)
Slightly less than half of the structurally deficient bridges in Illinois are on “rural local roads,” meaning that over half are in more highly traveled areas. The most traveled structurally deficient bridge in the state is in Chicago – the I-90/94 Bridge over Stewart Ave. to 28th Place, which has 214,000 vehicles crossing it every day. Additionally, there are at least nine other highly traveled structurally deficient bridges in Cook and DuPage Counties.
How Dangerous Are Structurally Deficient Bridges?
What does it mean practically when a bridge is structurally deficient? The answer is not always clear, according to engineering experts.
“In some cases, it is still safe to drive,” said IIT Civil & Architectural Engineering Prof. Gongkang Fu. “In some cases, it can be very close to a dangerous situation, and engineering science sometimes cannot tell the cutoff line.”
How best to remedy deficient bridges depends upon the extent of their defects. The State of Illinois has identified 4,083 bridges that require repair, estimating that over 1,500 of these should be replaced outright.
Steep Economic and Human Costs
Doing so may come with a steep price tag. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association estimates that it could cost $5.6 billion to fix, repair, or replace these bridges.
While the economic cost of remedying structurally deficient bridges may seem imposing, the human cost of not doing so could be even greater, as it can lead to a situation like the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh, PA. On Jan. 28, 2022, the bridge collapsed just hours before Pres. Biden was scheduled to speak in the city about his administration’s plan to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. Fortunately, nobody was killed in that incident, though at least ten people were hurt. It was not immediately clear whether any of the bridge collapse victims retained personal injury attorneys.
Is Illinois Addressing Structurally Deficient Bridges?
In the wake of the dismal news about the number of structurally deficient bridges in Illinois, officials insisted that the state is working to address the problem.
“We have both the Rebuild Illinois funding that came through a couple years ago, and now the federal funding, which is the largest infusion of bridge money since the highways were built,” said Audrey Wennink of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicago-based nonprofit that “serves communities and residents by developing, promoting, and implementing solutions for sound regional growth.”
Illinois also has a transportation management plan that lays out how to prioritize which bridges need repairing first. According to Wennink, this plan means that the state is “moving away from a worst first approach and taking more of a strategic approach.”
While the increase in funding and the implementation of a new assessment strategy may be positive developments, whether either effort proves up to the task is another matter. Some engineers in Illinois have claimed that the funding is likely to address only about 10 to 20 percent of what is needed to remedy the state’s structurally deficient bridges.
Meanwhile, even Prof. Fu, who is helping Illinois identify its most deficient bridges, worries about future collapses in light of what happened to the Fern Hollow Bridge. As he noted, Fern Hollow was probably not on a priority list for repair because it had minimal traffic and a low load capacity.
Fighting for Bridge Collapse Victims in Illinois
Bridge collapses can be terrifying events, ones that can inflict serious, life-changing injuries or even death. Fortunately, there may be hope. If you have been the victim of a bridge collapse or another structural disaster and wish to seek compensation, reach out to the personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC Injury Lawyers LLC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. Our dedicated personal injury attorneys have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation you need to help get you and your loved ones the justice you deserve.