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TxDOT says local bridges are safe

CORPUS CHRISTI - The bridge collapse tragedy in Minnesota has struck a chord with a lot of folks living in the Coastal Bend. Many people drive one of the several large bridges in the area on daily basis. Many people now want to know the conditions of local bridges.
/ Source: KRIS-TV

CORPUS CHRISTI - The bridge collapse tragedy in Minnesota has struck a chord with a lot of folks living in the Coastal Bend. Many people drive one of the several large bridges in the area on daily basis. Many people now want to know the conditions of local bridges.

TxDOT said it contracts companies to inspect local bridges at least twice a year. Bridges are rated from one to 100. Anything under 50 is considered structurally deficient. While the Harbor Bridge and JFK Causeway weren't found to have structural problems, the Nueces Bay Causeway was designated as structurally deficient.

The Nueces Bay Causeway (map) has seen better days and it appears wear and tear has left its mark on the concrete pillars. TxDOT spokesperson Frances Garza said it will cost $21 million to fix the cracks.

(Read TxDOT's Bridge Inspection Manual .pdf)
(Read more on national bridge inspection standards)

"It does not mean that it's not safe, it's just that at this point there are some things, that need to be done to it," she said. "They did not close this bridge, it's not bad enough that it needs to be closed, it just needs work."

During last year's inspections, inspectors found the bridge needed repairs, but not enough to warrant shutting it down. For now, TxDOT is monitoring the bridge until repairs are made to make sure it's safe for drivers.

"We are aware and we are checking our bridges and we are trying to make sure that they are safe for the public to use," Frances said.

Another bridge many drivers have been wondering about was the Harbor Bridge over the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. (map) Talk has been brewing for some time on replacing the aging structure.

After the last inspection, the Harbor Bridge was given a grade of 57, which sounds pretty low. TxDOT said that near failing grade is not a reflection of structural problems.

While some people traveling across the Harbor Bridge grip the steering wheel a little tighter, the Texas Department of Transportation said there's nothing to be afraid of when crossing the bridge.

"The Harbor Bridge, as far as the structure itself, is structurally sound," Garza said. Bridge inspectors gave a near failing score of 57 on a scale from zero to 100.

"Because it's an old bridge, it doesn't have the shoulders, it does have some steep approaches to it and that's what keeps the grade down."

Garza said the grade isn't going to go up because it lacks a lot of features found in brand new bridges. She said the structure isn't the problem. A major structural facelift was completed just two years ago.

All of the steel was repaired and replaced, along with all of the deteriorating nuts and bolts. That project cost $7 million. Garza said drivers locally have nothing to worry about.

"If the bridge people, the people that come and inspect it feel they need to close it, they close it," she said.

There is ongoing maintenance to slow down the aging process as much as possible, which is mainly painting the steel to help prevent rust. TxDOT continues to talk about the day when a brand new Harbor Bridge will be in place. They said it could be completed by 2015.

On the way to the island, the JFK Causeway Bridge (map) received a rating of 67.

With attention focused on the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, Garza wants to reassure drivers that the Nueces Bay Causeway is safe.

"I just want people to know that even though we're saying this structure is structurally deficient, it's safe to use."

Right now TxDOT is working with the contractor on plans to repair the cracks that were caused by the deterioration of rebar inside the columns, so that will need to be replaced.

Officials said the project should get underway in January of 2009 and should take about two years to complete.

Online Reporter: Roxanne Carrillo