Problem bridges a concern statewide; structurally deficient bridges in Douglas, Sarpy counties

Posted at 10:44 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-16 23:44:16-04

It's a nationwide crisis.

"When a bridge gets to be 50 or 60 years old you're going to have to shut them down," said Sarpy County Engineer Dennis Wilson. 

Douglas and Sarpy counties have dozens of structurally deficient bridges - all showing signs of wear and tear.

"Basically, overall the condition of the bridge is very poor," said Michael Kleffner, Omaha city engineer.

The National Bridge Inventory ranks the 25th and Q Street bridge in Omaha the worst in the area at only 5 percent sufficient.

"You've got parts that are cracking, parts that've rusted through that we made repairs on," said Kleffner. "You've got the deck that's in poor condition. There's quite a few potholes."

That bridge was originally slated to undergo reconstruction in 2010 but the project was delayed eight years due to slowdowns with the federal aid process.  

"It doesn't surprise me because we're in Omaha and there's a lot of streets that's messed up," said Shernena Bush who walks the bridge multiple times a day. "But that one - since it's a bridge and over the interstate - should be fixed first."

Now, it's set to undergo a year long reconstruction beginning in 2018 as a Capitol Improvement Project - costing approximately $14 million and forcing thousands of commuters to make detours.

"We have some bridges that might carry 25,000 cars a day. If we close it they're going to go somewhere," said Douglas County Engineering and Planning Manager Dan Kutilek. 

There are similiar bridges all over the state - including Douglas and Sarpy counties. 

More than 37,000 cars cross over the BNSF railroad tracks near 84th and Park Street making it the second most traveled deficient bridge in the state. 

It's also on the list for replacement.

But most problem bridges are in rural areas and are inspected every one to two years depending on certain criteria. 

"Those signs are up that warns a vehicle if you're exceeding that load limit, you could run the risk of having the bridge break," said Wilson.

It's a crisis engineers are dealing with and it boils down to funding. The state estimates bridge repair and replacement will cost nearly one billion dollars.

"Our budget - we just got that today and we have 15 million dollars in projects that we're looking at and we have about 9 and a half million dollars in available funds that we'll be able to spend on that," said Wilson.

Counties are relying on programs like the County Bridge Map Program, which will provide 40 million in funding, to close the gaps. 

"Bridge maintenance is one of the most difficult things to seek funding for. If you tell people we're going to levy a tax to build some nice stadium or something along those lines, pretty easy sell," said Wilson. "But when you're talking about maintaining a road or replacing a road, it's just not quite as glorifying."

"I know other counties have numerous bridges that are physically closed because they have no money to replace them," said Kutilek. 

And while experts agree that repairing and replacing these aging bridges is a challenge...

"It is stressful because you want to do the best job that you can and unfortunately no one has as many funds as you need," said Wilson.

There's no question about safety.

"There's no danger. If there was danger we would close the bridge immediately. We don't take safety to be a minor thing," said Kleffner.

You can learn more about bridge rankings in your community by clicking here.