541 area bridges rated obsolete

There are 541 bridges across southwest Ohio that are rated functionally obsolete by the government, state records show (See the full list and more details on each bridge here). This is the same federal rating given to the Skagit River bridge in Washington state that collapsed Thursday.

Across Ohio, there are 3,733 bridges that are rated functionally obsolete, according to an analysis of state bridge data by the Dayton Daily News. That means the bridges are safe, but built to outdated standards such as having narrow shoulders or low clearance, according to Ohio Department of Transportation officials.

A truck hauling an oversized load of drilling equipment hit an overhead girder on the Skagit River bridge along Interstate 5, sending a portion of the bridge and two vehicles into the river. Three people escaped with only minor injuries.

The vertical clearance from the roadway to the beam was 14.6 feet, and Washington officials said there were no signs leading up to the bridge warning about its clearance height. The truck did have a permit, however, for the oversized load.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials said in a statement Friday that there are only three overhead truss bridges on Ohio's interstate system and all meet the minimum vertical clearance of 16.5 feet. ODOT said any bridge that has a vertical clearance of 13.5 feet or lower has a "low clearance" sign.

Any truck taller than 13.5 feet is required to apply for a permit to travel on state roadways, the statement said, and the ODOT permit office checks clearance heights on all bridges on the route before issuing a permit.

But Fredrick Pausch, executive director of the County Engineers Association of Ohio, said people "should be very concerned" about something similar to the Skagit River bridge collapse happening here.

In addition to functionally obsolete bridges, the state has 2,230 bridges — including 218 in southwest Ohio — rated as "structurally deficient," the Daily News found. This means they require significant maintenance and repair and often need posted weight limits to remain in service.

"Just because you post a bridge at 10 tons or whatever that doesn't mean a 28-ton cement truck can't come over it," Pausch said.

He said the state needs to put more money into upgrading the bridges so they aren't relying on height and weight limit signs that can be ignored.

"Is (an accident like this) ever totally preventable? I doubt it. We just have to minimize the impact," he said.

State figures obtained by the Daily News show the state is already spending more money on bridges and reducing the number of those rated structurally deficient.

The state plans on spending more than $800 million this year and more than $1 billion next year on bridge maintenance. This is more than it has spent at any point in the past 10 years, according to state transportation department figures.

The number of structurally deficient bridges in the state went down by nearly 400 last year after hovering near 3,000 since 2008.

"When a bridge becomes unsafe, we close it," said ODOT Spokesman Steve Faulkner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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