SC bridges on road to improvement - Charleston County leader of AAA”s top 20 substandard list

  • Thursday, July 31, 2014

Extra funds have ramped up South Carolinas efforts to repair and replace deficient bridges, but one in five of the state's bridges still remain substandard, according to AAA Carolinas.

Charleston County has the most substandard bridges on AAA's top 20 list with six total. One of those bridges in North Charleston is on 1-26 at Highway 7 and carries over a half million vehicles weekly; ranking third overall on the list.

A Richland County bridge, which also carries one of the heaviest daily traffic counts in the state, tops AAA's 17th annual substandard bridge report for the 13th time.

More than half of South Carolina's substandard bridges are five decades old or more, a reflection of the estimated $1.9 billion the SCDOT says it would cost to raise all of the state's bridges to federal standards in one year.

AAA Carolinas rates the state's substandard bridges by gathering DOT data and placing extra emphasis on vehicle traffic volume because those are bridges that affect the most motorists. The goal is to highlight the continuous need for legislative funding to repair, replace or rehabilitate aging bridges.

AAA Carolinas' 2014 rankings found:

• The average age of AAA Carolina's top 20 substandard bridges in South Carolina is 56 years old.

• The top 20 substandard bridges on AAA's list carry an average of 51,713 vehicles daily.

• Combined, more than 7.2 million vehicles travel across South Carolina's top 20 substandard bridges each week, a decrease from 7.5 million last year.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for over 9,200 bridges, 21% (1,828) are considered substandard, which is better than the 24% national average. South Carolina also has a lower percentage of substandard bridges than neighboring North Carolina's 31% and Virginia's 26%, but not as well as Georgia's 17% and Florida's 16%.

“Despite North Carolina being a richer state, South Carolina has done a better job of maintaining its roads and bridges,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “But more funding is needed to continue South Carolina's bridge infrastructure revival.”

South Carolina's gas tax, which is the lowest in the country, is the main funding supply for the SCDOT and has remained unchanged since 1987, but state funds have been shifted to address approximately 25% of the state's load-restricted bridges over the next two to three years.

“The additional funding for our bridges will result in a significant benefit to South Carolina,” said Secretary of Transportation Janet P. Oakley.

The SCDOT estimates that approximately 90 bridges that are closed or load restricted will be replaced in the next few years.

“These new bridges will improve safety and help local economies, where bridge restrictions have caused detours for truck traffic as well as emergency services,” Oakley said.

When engineers determine a bridge is unsafe it is either closed to traffic or weight restricted.

The counties with the highest percentage of substandard bridges are Charleston (47%), Lancaster (40%), Edgefield (33%) and Aiken (31%).

The counties with the lowest percentage of substandard bridges are Calhoun (3%), Florence (8%), Hampton (11%) and Williamsburg (12%).

Substandard bridges are officially classified under federal guidelines as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” with AAA Carolinas assigning extra weight to traffic volume to highlight bridges affecting the most motorists.

“Structurally deficient” is defined as being in relatively poor physical condition and/or inadequate to handle truck weight.

“Functionally obsolete” is defined as having inadequate design for current traffic volume. States inspect bridges to determine their condition and qualify for federal aid replacement funds when a bridge scores less than 50 on a 100-point scale.

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