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Work Under Way, Planned to Fix Deficient Bridges in Md.

Fri August 15, 2008 - Northeast Edition

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) While few of the 20 busiest Maryland bridges that are structurally deficient have been fixed, others are under construction and about half are in the design stage to receive new bridge decks, a process that could take up to five years in some cases.

After 13 people died in last year’s collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Gov. Martin O’Malley quickly highlighted the tragedy as an example of why state officials needed to invest in shoring up Maryland’s transportation infrastructure after years of neglect.

O’Malley pushed for more than $400 million in new transportation money as part of $1.4 billion in tax increases approved in November’s special legislative session.

Lawmakers ended up taking about $50 million of the new transportation money to help make up for a repeal of an extension of the sales tax to computer services. As a result, the state ended up with about $360 million annually in new funds.

State transportation officials concede that Maryland’s transportation infrastructure is aging: many of its bridges are 40 to 50 years old.

With $40 billion in unmet transportation needs, the new money represents a small step forward, overall.

But David Buck, a spokesman of the State Highway Administration, said $120 million in new money will be available over five years specifically for work on bridges. That adds up to about $24 million in additional money each year, starting in the next fiscal year. It will bring the total amount of state money available for bridge work to about $100 million a year.

“It’s a huge help,’’ Buck said. “It is an aging network of bridges and roads, and one that requires constant, constant upkeep.’’

A lot of work remains to be done on the state’s busiest bridges with structural deficiencies. Twenty-two of Maryland’s busiest bridges with structural deficiencies are on the National Bridge Inventory.

New decks will be put on about half of the structurally deficient bridges in hopes of getting them off the list. Several of those projects will take as long as five years to finish. The decks are the roadway tops of bridges, which extend several inches beneath the surface.

“By next April, we’re going to either have completed or have active construction on 32 more structurally deficient bridges,’’ Buck said.

Two bridges in Prince George’s County, Maryland 201 north and southbound about two miles south of U.S. 50, are under construction, with new decks scheduled to be finished by year’s end, Buck said.

One bridge on the list, the northbound Interstate 95 bridge over the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County near the Howard County line, is no longer considered to be structurally deficient by state officials. Buck said the state inspected the bridge again last August — after a previous inspection found it deficient — and inspectors agreed it didn’t warrant being listed.

In 1998, Buck said the SHA had a total of 163 structurally deficient bridges under its jurisdiction. Now, there are 129, which is about 5 percent of the bridges maintained by SHA.

The agency maintains about a fifth of the state’s entire road system. About 75 percent of the state’s traffic drives on those roads.

Statewide, about 20 percent of bridges under local jurisdictions are structurally deficient, Buck said.

Bridges under the agency’s jurisdiction are inspected at least once every two years.

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