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Utah bridges rank among safest in nation

By Jed Boal, KSL TV | Posted - Apr 21st, 2019 @ 6:41pm

SALT LAKE CITY — How safe are Utah’s bridges?

Just last month, a 3-foot pothole punctured a bridge on I-15 in Salt Lake City, making it risky for travel.

Right now, more than 60 bridges statewide are listed as structurally deficient. A recent nationwide assessment, however, ranks Utah’s bridges among the best.

"The amount of vehicles that pass over the bridges, it needs to be in good shape," said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.

"Typically, if you hear about something happening with the bridge, that’s not a good thing," Gleason added.

Like that pothole on I-15 over 800 South last month — state bridge inspectors had looked it over seven months earlier. Jera Irick, UDOT’s manager of bridge inspection, said it was crumbled by invasive water that froze and cracked the concrete.

“We do only look at each of these bridges once every two years,” Irick said. “If the public does see something like that, reach out to UDOT, and we will be more than happy to go out there, look at it, and make sure everything’s OK.”

KSL TV caught up with a UDOT inspection team on Wednesday as it scoured an overpass on Antelope Drive in Clearfield about a half mile west of I-15. UDOT inspects every bridge every other year, and averages 130 bridge inspections each month.

“You don’t really notice a bridge unless you’re really looking for them because we do anything from 20 feet long to several hundred feet long,” said Irick.

“We want to look at the more crucial elements of the bridge,” said Gar O’Donnell, one of the UDOT bridge inspectors examining the bridge on Antelope Drive. “(We check) decks, girders and we work our way down, from top to bottom.

They inspect the immediate safety and integrity of the bridge. They also look for deficiencies that lead to recommendations for long-term maintenance. The inspectors will put together a complete report on the bridge before the end of the month.

Even when we say ‘poor condition’ that doesn’t mean unsafe. It’s still very safe to drive on.

–Jera Irick, UDOT bridge inspection manager

“It looks good,” said O’Donnell. “It’s in a good condition for its age.”

“Overall, our bridges are really good,” said Irick. “I think we are the envy of a lot of the nation.”

Utah is second only to Arizona, according to a national bridge inventory released recently by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. That report showed improved integrity of Utah bridges over the last five years.

“It definitely was a concerted effort,” said Irick. “I think we’ve always been trying to catch up on that stuff.”

Among 3,061 bridges statewide, 66 — or 2.2 percent — are classified as structurally deficient. That means one key element is in poor or worse condition. That’s down from 90 deficient bridges five years ago. Right now, Utah has 127 bridges in need of repair at an estimated cost of $51 million. That is also down from five years ago.

“That’s not an accident,” said Gleason. “When we have a bridge that’s listed in poor condition, we make plans right away to address it.”

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All of the bridges listed as poor today are scheduled to be fixed in the next four to five years, said Gleason.

“Even when we say ‘poor condition’ that doesn’t mean unsafe,” said Irick. “It’s still very safe to drive on.”

He said that assessment lets them know internally that the bridge needs work soon.

What’s making the difference in recent years?

Gleason said increased funding for road and bridge repairs through the state gas tax. Many Utah bridges are also rebuilt as roadways are expanded and improved.

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