State Audit: Local Bridge Spans Need More Attention

Tue August 26, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Shannon McCaffrey - Associated Press




ATLANTA (AP) Bridges owned and maintained by local governments in Georgia are more likely to be structurally deficient than those managed by the state, according to an audit released June 27.

The review from the state Department of Audits and Accounts also found that not enough is done to enforce weight restrictions on some 2,000 bridges throughout Georgia. And in at least six counties, school buses carrying students were crossing bridges they should not have been because of weight restrictions, the audit found.

The audit said Georgia bridges are in better shape than spans in many other states.

Overall, roughly 9 percent of the state’s 14,700 bridges were rated structurally deficient in 2007, compared with the national average of 12 percent, auditors found.

But the audit determined that the safety of the bridge may depend on who’s maintaining it.

The 6,600 bridges operated by local governments are three times as likely to be rated structurally deficient as 7,800 state bridges, the audit said.

Auditors said local governments frequently don’t make repairs recommended by state transportation officials. While some of that is due to the lack of money, other work not being done is relatively routine. Auditors suggested that the state Department of Transportation should make bridge maintenance training a requirement to receive state funds.

Paul Radford, deputy director of the Georgia Municipal Association, said he could not comment on the specifics of the report because he had not seen it.

But he said, in general, cities are running short on cash for transportation infrastructure.

“We receive very little assistance from the state or the federal government,” Radford said.

The audit said that the state should also do more to help the Georgia Department of Public Safety enforce weight restrictions in place on some bridges. Only 31 citations were issued in fiscal year 2006 and only a few local agencies have the scales necessary to conduct checks.

And the transportation officials must communicate with their counterparts in the Department of Education to prevent school buses filled with children from crossing bridges not equipped to handle them. School buses are not supposed to cross 424 bridges across the state. But interviews with school officials in 16 counties showed that six had bus routes crossing the bridges.

Bridge safety has been grabbing attention since an interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis last summer left 13 dead.