Are Wiregrass Bridges Really Safe?

By: Deborah Tuff Email
By: Deborah Tuff Email

Some Wiregrass engineers feel confident that what happened in Minneapolis won't happen in our area. Why?

A fracture critical bridge sits on Coffee County Road 147. Coffee County residents haven’t used the old bridge since 1984.

And, a more up-to-date bridge later replaced it.

If one part of a fracture critical bridge breaks, the entire thing collapses, which is what area engineers say happened in Minneapolis.

Back in 2000, many rural Alabama counties were given millions in bonds to replace outdated bridges with cement ones.

"These are the worse bridges; they were rated for school buses. And that's what the whole bond issue was sold on; eliminating some of the re-routing of some of these school buses," says Dale County Engineer Derek Brewer.

Brewer says of the 113 bridges in his area, seven were replaced as a result of the bond issue, while other engineers we spoke with in Henry, Dale, Coffee, and Geneva Counties say the bond issue also helped them become up to date on their bridges.

And, there are certain things a bridge inspector looks for to make sure a bridge is safe to cross, which may be on a lot of drivers minds in the wake of the Minneapolis, Minnesota bridge tragedy.

"Catastrophic failure can happen anywhere but we have a really stringent bridge inspection program," says Brewer.

Depending on the bridge, usually it’s inspected every two years; some every three to six months,” says Coffee County Assistant Engineer Marty Lentz. "We can gather information about the sufficiency of our bridges. If your sufficiency rating falls below 50 then it's time to start talking about replacing a bridge."

Many counties depend on the State Department of Transportation for bridge upkeep, which gives rural areas $500,000 dollars a year.

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