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Most Structurally-Deficient Bridge In NC Scheduled For Full Replacement

 North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers stands underneath Bridge 299 in Greensboro. The bridge is the most structurally deficient in the state.
Naomi Prioleau
/
WUNC
North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers stands underneath Bridge 299 in Greensboro. The bridge is the most structurally deficient in the state.

The year was 1955. Dirt roads covered much of Greensboro and Guilford County. Then, the Interstate Highway System was passed and Bridge 299 was born.

The bridge is located in Greensboro, and it’s not really noticeable to the 134,000 vehicles that pass over it every day.

At 63-years-old, the bridge is considered the most “structurally deficient” bridge in the state by both the North Carolina Department of Transportation and AAA.

 

Thirteen percent of all bridges in the state are classified as structurally deficient. That's when one or more of a bridge’s components aren’t performing the way they were designed.

NC DOT Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers said just because the bridge is structurally deficient doesn’t mean it will collapse.

“It’s just a keyword to realize, yes, it has some issues that we need to address,” he said. “It does not mean it’s unsafe. If a bridge is unsafe to traffic, we shut them down.”

North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers walks toward Bridge 299 which is slated for a full bridge replacement next spring. The bridge is the most structurally deficient in the state
Credit Naomi Prioleau / WUNC
/
WUNC
North Carolina Department of Transportation Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers walks toward Bridge 299 which is slated for a full bridge replacement next spring. The bridge is the most structurally deficient in the state

Bridge 299

The bridge carries I-40 over South Buffalo Creek near the South Elm Eugene Street exit in Greensboro.

It also carries Business I-85, US-220, US-79 and US-29.

Underneath the bridge, there's an almost a peaceful silence as water from the creek sits in small pools. Powers said the silence is a good thing.

“We don't hear any bangs, say from loosened expansion joints or other issues,” he said. “Even the audio out here, it's a quiet bridge and that's an indication there's nothing wrong.”

He also said that the problems the bridge has is comparable to the human body.

“If you mash you're finger, yes it's going to hurt and cause some pain but as far as the health of the whole body, you're still in pretty good health,” he said.

Bridge Repairs

There are 18,000 bridges in North Carolina and the state is responsible for maintaining and repairing 13,500 of them.

Bridges are inspected every two years. When Bridge 299 was last inspected in 2017, officials determined that it needed to be replaced.

Next year, after contracts are approved, NC DOT will do a full bridge replacement of Bridge 299 at a cost of about $12 million.

Federal funding is responsible for covering 80 percent of the cost and the other 20 percent will be funded by the state. Replacement construction on it should start next spring.

 Bridge 299 is located over South Buffalo Creek in Greensboro.
Credit Naomi Prioleau / WUNC
/
WUNC
Bridge 299 is located over South Buffalo Creek in Greensboro. The bridge carries I-40, Business I-85, US-220, US-29 and US-70. It is scheduled for a full bridge replacement next spring.

Bridge funding

Infrastructure repair and maintenance is an area that is severely under-funded, according to Bob Cagle, North Carolina’s Governor for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The ASCE was founded in 1852 and boasts more than 150,000 members across 177 countries.

Each year, the group publishes an infrastructure report card for the country. They gave the U.S. a D+.

The most recent report card for North Carolina was in 2013 and they gave the bridges a C-.

“While the North Carolina Department of Transportation currently is funding a $200 million bridge improvement program, the quantity of aging structures simply outnumbers the funded bridges being repaired, rehabilitated, and replaced,” the ASCE’s report card states. “NCDOT continually adjusts priority projects in an effort to maximize dollars spent throughout the state. This effort has had a positive impact on the overall bridge condition; however, this effort must continue in order to raise the health of state bridges to an acceptable level.”

Cagle agrees with the group's statement.

“We need to be looking at other means of funding and come up with a stable funding mechanism for the federal portion of infrastructure construction,” he said.

State funds for infrastructure repair primarily come from gasoline taxes. Every time a driver fills up a tank, 18.4 cents of each gallon of gas goes to the Highway Trust Fund. Federal funding comes from however much money Congress has set aside for it.

Cagle thinks infrastructure maintenance hasn’t been a priority to the nation. He said more money needs to go into it so the state and nation  aren’t playing “catch up” when they need to repair something.

“Nobody wants to say they they're going to raise taxes,” he said. “But maybe in reality we got to bite the bullet and say raise the gasoline tax or come with a new method of raising funds.”

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion plan to repair infrastructure with a majority of the funding going toward transportation needs.

While the situation with Bridge 299 is common, NC DOT Division Bridge Program Manager Tim Powers said he wants his bridges to last for years to come.

“We want to build a bridge that will last 70 to 100 years,” he said. “I'll be dead and gone, hopefully long before any of the bridges I've touched will be replaced again.”

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