Survey Finds Structurally Deficient Montana Bridges

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A new survey finds one of every 13 highway bridges in Montana is structurally deficient, and that an average of 80,000 motorists a day cross what the report ranks as the top three busiest bridges in the state that are in that category.

The report released this week by Transportation for America said federal guidelines peg a bridge structurally deficient if it has a major defect that requires significant maintenance or replacement.

“Drivers in Montana are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges with ‘poor’ ratings — bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair,” the report said.

The busiest bridges with problems are one over the Missouri River in Great Falls that has an average of 37,280 vehicles a day, the Russell Street Bridge in Missoula with 22,370 vehicles, and the Madison Street Bridge, also in Missoula, with 21,560 vehicles.

“We’re not concerned that these bridges are going to fall down, but the fact that there’s no consistent stream of funding for that sort of infrastructure maintenance should be of concern,” Missoula Mayor John Engen told the Missoulian. “We’re in the same boat that many other communities are in.”

In all, the survey found 391 Montana bridges structurally deficient. That’s 7.6 percent of bridges statewide. Nationally, the survey found 11.5 percent of bridges to be structurally deficient.

“The report on bridges, if accurate, highlights one outcome of the federal government’s declining stewardship of our transportation infrastructure,” said Missoula City Councilman Jason Wiener.

The report said $70.9 billion is needed to pay for bridge repairs nationally. It also said most bridges are designed to last 50 years, and that the average age of bridges in the nation is 42. Montana’s bridges average 41.7 years.

Deferring maintenance for 25 years can end up costing three times as much in repairs.

“We’ve made significant investments in our transportation infrastructure, and we have to figure out appropriate, intelligent ways to continue to fund that,” Engen said.

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