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I-Team 10 investigates: Bridge conditions in Rochester

/ Source: WHEC-TV

ROCHESTER - The number of people feared dead in the Minneapolis bridge collapse has dropped dramatically.

Authorities now say there are eight people missing, and five confirmed dead.

Thursday, workers feared as many as 30 were still missing. Another 100 were injured when the I-35 west bridge plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River.

The bridge had been declared structurally deficient as early as 1990.

I-Team 10 has obtained important information about the quality of bridges in our area. And many are not making the grade according to federal ratings.

On Gillett Road in Ogden, a bridge that crosses an abandoned railroad bed is among the worst rated in all of Monroe County. Under it, we noticed rusted metal, crumbling concrete and exposed rebar. We learned about its condition after pouring over pages and pages of federal documents.

I-Team 10 has obtained records of every bridge in Monroe County. The data comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation's national bridge inventory and includes inspections information through 2006 as well as sufficiency ratings on the quality of the bridges.

In Monroe County, there are more than 600 bridges and the New York DOT says they all get a thorough inspection at least every 24 months.

"Our bridge inspection teams go out and look at every single aspect of the bridge from the primary structural members that hold it up, to the guide rails, to the drainage that allows the water off the deck," said NYDOT Regional Design Engineer Kevin Bush.

But in studying the numbers, we looked specifically at three components of the bridges: the surface, the main structure, and the substructure which includes the piers, abutments or footings. Each is given a rating between 1, for imminent failure, to 9 for excellent. We found a few 3's, meaning serious and several 4's which translates to poor.

On Stottle Road in Chili, cars have been crossing Black Creek on this bridge since 1939. Of the 900 or so drivers who pass over the bridge each day, few probably ever notice that the concrete substructure of the bridge is crumbling.

According to the DOT data, that part of the bridge rated a "3." It also got 4's" for other components of the bridge.

"It may have a low federal rating, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's not safe," said Bush.

So are any of our bridges currently in use unsafe?

"If it's to the point where it shouldn't be used, it would be closed. So I would say no," said Bush.

But in 2005 a report by The Road Information Program, or TRIP, a non-profit advocacy group, gave Rochester bridge conditions an overall letter grade of "D."

"What we found was that more than half of the bridges in the Rochester area are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete," said TRIP spokesperson Carolyn Bonifas. "These are bridges that either no longer meet current safety or design standards or that have major deterioration to the major components of the bridge."

The TRIP study called for making funding our aging roads and bridges a priority. After this week's tragic collapse in Minnesota, many lawmakers are now saying the same thing.

Incidentally the Stottle Road bridge is slated for replacement in 2009.

Related documents from TRIP (a national transportation research group):
Rochester Report Card - January 2005
New York State bridge conditions - January 2005
TRIP grading scale