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Many bridges in the Richmond region deemed ‘structurally deficient’

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There are several bridges and overpasses in the Richmond region that have been deemed “structurally deficient." This one at Airport Bridge Drive and I-64 recently replaced one such bridge. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that I-64's bridge over Airport Drive in Henrico County was structurally deficient. The old, structurally deficient bridge was recently replaced by VDOT. We have updated the article and apologize for the error.

There’s good news and bad news with the latest report on the status of bridges and overpasses in Virginia. 

Of the almost 14,000 bridges in the state, just over 500 (530 to be exact) are classified as structurally deficient, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association

And while that number comes out to 3.8% of all bridges, it still means key elements of these bridges or overpasses are rated in “poor or worse condition.” That 500 number is down from 773 bridges classified as structurally deficient five years ago.

That’s the good news, says Alison Black, chief economist at ARTBA.

“That number continues to go down incrementally each year. It's a slow pace, but we are seeing improvement there,” said Black. “On the other hand, the challenge that we still have is that beyond just bridges in poor condition, we have information on the number of bridges that need some sort of rehabilitation, repair or even replacement.”

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Black said it took quite a bit of work to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges.

“I think that reflects the additional investment of the DOT [Department of Transportation] and local governments,” Black said. “I think we see that across the country, the increase in investment both through state and local governments as well as through the new federal infrastructure bill. That's certainly going to help this situation if states continue to invest in making those bridge repairs, but it's not going to solve the problem.”

Despite recent efforts, Black said the state has identified needed repairs on 6,359 bridges in all, at an estimated cost of nearly $11.4 billion. This includes replacing entire bridges, widening bridges and deck replacement.

“That figure [is] based on the inspection reports,” said Black. “And based on the average cost to fix a bridge in Virginia. That's how we came up with that investment figure of $11.3 billion.”

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In an email to VPM, officials at the Virginia Department of Transportation say plans to fix deficient bridges have been ongoing, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act - also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and originally in the House as the INVEST in America Act - will increase available funding.

“VDOT has been addressing bridge needs through the Maintenance and State of Good Repair Programs for a number of years. VDOT is also implementing a new bridge program based on the $500 million of dedicated IIJA bridge formula funds Virginia will receive to restore the condition and extend the service life of bridges. The [Commonwealth Transportation Board] allocated the first year’s $107 million of IIJA bridge formula funds to projects at its January 2022 meeting.”

The IIJA was signed by President Joe Biden last November and includes $40 billion for rehabbing the nation’s bridges. 

There are 224,000 U.S. bridges in need of repair, according to ARTBA. Black says that number continues to be about one in three bridges across the United States.

“To put that in perspective, if you laid all of those bridges that need repair end to end, that would stretch about 6,100 miles,” said Black. “So that's going from Maine to LA and back again.”

Compared to other states, Virginia’s bridges aren’t in as bad of shape, Black said. Only eight states have a smaller percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Last year, 11 states had a smaller percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Virginia also has a smaller percentage of structurally deficient bridge deck area than all but 13 states, a slight improvement from 2020.

Location, Location, Location

In Richmond, some of the bridges were built in the late 1950s, like the Broad Street bridge that goes over Interstate 95 and the 5th Street ramp also over I-95. But one bridge– on Arthur Ashe Boulevard going over the CSX railroad near The Diamond and Bowtie Cinema - was built in 1943. This bridge, like the others, sees over 25,000 crossings per day. Events such as the Richmond Marathon can bring even more traffic.

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The overpass of Arthur Ashe Boulevard (North Boulevard) near The Diamond is one of those in Richmond deemed 'structurally deficient.' (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Other deficient bridges in the Richmond region include a bridge on Parham Road and one on I-195 that both cross over the CSX railway in Henrico.  I-95’s crossing over Reymet Road in Chesterfield, built in 1958, holds the weight of more than 100,000 vehicles each day.

Where the Funding Comes From

Increased state revenues have made their way to the Virginia Department of Transportation, Black said, allowing them to target improvements on bridges. But she said bridge repair can be a challenge for local governments.

“Oftentimes, many of those bridges are on local road systems. And it can be a challenge for local areas to raise revenues to make some of these very costly investments,” Black said. “So there still is going to be work that needs to be done not only to make the rehabilitation repairs, the replacements fixing all those bridges as well as new bridges that are going to need work eventually as they age [and] deteriorate.”

Black said funding for bridges and other traffic-related issues in the country come from a variety of sources. 

“You have the Federal Aid Highway Program, which provides significant investment that states can use,” Black said. “A lot of that is directed mainly towards things like the interstate, the National Highway System, those primary, more heavily traveled parts of the infrastructure network.”

She adds that funding resources for states come through gas and business taxes as well as license and registration fees.

“On the local side, we've seen a number of local county ballot initiatives. And that's been the case in Virginia as well,” Black said. “So that's a way for the local government to raise the revenue to try and address some of those bridges on the local network. It's really a multi-prong approach through these three different parts of government.”

VDOT told VPM that they currently have two primary funding programs to address existing bridges. 

“It’s [the] Highway Maintenance and Operation (HMO) program, and [the] State of Good Repair (SGR) construction program. The HMO Program is used to inspect, evaluate, repair, and rehabilitate bridges statewide and is funded annually at approximately $215 million. The bridge portion of the SGR program is focused on the reconstruction and replacement of structurally deficient (poor) state and locally owned bridges. Its funding level averages $225 million per year.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide approximately $107 million a year over the next five years in additional funding to repair and preserve bridges in fair shape and replace or rehabilitate existing poor bridges. That’s according to a joint statement released by Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine back in November in support of the bill. 

“As former governors of Virginia, we know that getting a bill signed into law is only the beginning, and we’ll be working with folks on the ground to ensure this bill is implemented quickly and efficiently,” they wrote.

In an email to VPM, officials at VDOT say they are waiting for funding from the Infrastructure bill.

“The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (IIJA) will provide opportunities to seek competitive grants for transportation infrastructure, broadband, water, energy and more. Virginia will aggressively seek federal discretionary grants for specific projects, including bridge projects,” they said.

They say using money from the bill to fix bridges and roads is a “major focus” of Virginia’s new secretary of transportation, Shep Miller. 

“He is working with all agency heads within the Transportation Secretariat to understand the universe of projects eligible for federal funding and to identify innovative opportunities to streamline procurements, combine projects to reduce administrative burdens and incorporate new technologies,” VDOT wrote.

VDOT officials confirmed the IIJA will provide approximately $107 million a year over the next five years for bridge work.