NJ’s most-traveled crumbling bridges: Are they really safe?
A new report finds more than a third of all bridges in New Jersey have serious flaws, meaning they are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association report finds 9 percent of the 6,730 bridges in the Garden State, a total of 609 bridges, are structurally deficient, which means one of more key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, are considered to be in poor or worse condition.
The report also finds 1 in 4 bridges in New Jersey, a total of 1,684 spans, have been classified as functionally obsolete, which means the bridge does not meet design standards in line with current practice.
When Gov. Chris Christie was asked about the report on Wednesday, he said the state is committed to making all necessary repairs.
“No bridge that is unsafe is allowed to be open, and when we had a bridge between ourselves and Pennsylvania, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that was unsafe we closed it,” he said.
Christie says fixing these bridges is a top priority and that’s why he approved the plan to raise the gas tax to generate money for the Transportation Trust Fund back in the fall of last year.
“We’ll spend $32 billion on our roads, bridges and our mass transit system over the next eight years, with the state money at $2 billion and the federal match at $2 billion,” he said.
Steve Schapiro, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the DOT is aware of the statistics cited in the report, and “we’re out there doing projects every day.”
He pointed out the information about structurally deficient bridges sounds really scary, but Schapiro stressed “it’s important for people to realize it does not mean the bridge is unsafe, it just means one of the three main elements of a bridge needs repair or rehabilitation.”
“If you’re driving down a bridge and it’s got potholes and things like that, that’s a deck that might need repair, or something with the superstructure.”
As for a quarter of New Jersey bridges being classified as functionally obsolete, he said this only means if you were building that bridge today “there would be different components to it."
"One thing that can make a bridge functionally obsolete is something like having narrow lanes, narrow shoulders or even no shoulders.”
He says if a bridge is functionally obsolete, it doesn’t relate to safety.
“It just means that standards over the years have changed and several of our bridges don’t meet modern standards of bridge design,” he said.
Schapiro says “safety is our top priority, and what people should know is that we have more than 200 inspectors evaluating bridges statewide every day.”
He added that “every bridge in the state according to federal regulation must be inspected at least once every two years, and if a bridge raises a greater concern it’s going to be inspected even more frequently.”
Schapiro noted between fiscal years 2011 and 2016, the DOT invested $4.4 billion in state and local bridge programs.
“What that’s done is reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges the Department of Transportation maintains from 330 in 2010 to 296 bridges in April of 2016.”
The report also finds 156 bridges in the Garden State are posted for load, which may restrict the size and weight of vehicles crossing the span.
The report finds nationally, almost 56,000 bridges are structurally deficient.
Christie said even though we’re now spending more than ever on repairing state bridges, “you’ll still have people who carp and complain about this, cause that’s what they do for a living, is carp and complain and not solve problems.”
The governor said he’ll have an announcement in the next few weeks about stepped-up efforts to try and deal with some of the acute transportation problems in New Jersey “very quickly.”
Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.