Group gives Alaska C-plus on bridges

JUNEAU — A new report card deems 11 percent of Alaska’s bridges are structurally deficient and 12.5 percent functionally obsolete.

Structurally deficient bridges need maintenance or possible replacement, while functionally obsolete bridges — which might be in good shape — don’t meet contemporary engineering standards, APRN reported. 

Alaska has nearly 1,200 bridges, according to the report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The group’s executive director, Patrick Natale, said Alaska gets a C-plus grade.

“It looks like you’re around the national average. The average is about one in four bridges have a concern,” he said. “So, you’re there. That’s not a good sign.”

Jeremy Woodrow, a spokesman for the state transportation department, said that grade was fair and noted infrastructure across the country is aging.

But Woodrow said there’s a difference between a bridge needing improvement and a failure, such as what happened last week in Washington state, where a bridge collapsed after being hit by a truck. Some terms used for bridges, such as “structurally deficient,” can be scary to the general public, he said.

“It doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe. It just means that the bridge is nearing a time where it needs to be rehabilitated or replaced,” he said.

Woodrow said the department inspects each bridge in Alaska every two years to determine which need the most attention. Those bridges are judged on a scale of zero to nine, with anything below a seven getting attention or shut down.

There has been one bridge closure in Alaska due to safety concerns in recent years. In 2011, a bridge along the Copper River Highway near Cordova was closed because of erosion around it. It remains closed.

“If there’s ever a cause for concern, we will close a bridge prior to it getting to the point where it could reach failure,” Woodrow said.