Two Central Alabama Bridges Similar to Minnesota Structures: DOT Says They're Safe

The Alabama state highway database shows there are about 15-thousand bridges in our state.

Engineers say for the most part, the structures are safe. But as the national numbers revealed, some are becoming dangerous.  One is inside the Montgomery city limits.

The old Woodley Road Bridge is closed because of safety concerns and the county has no plans to restore service because of the cost involved. But in a way, engineers say this is proof the bridge safety checks are working.

And in light of the Minnesota collapse, two Alabama bridges in particular might get a second look. You probably know one of them well.

It's probably one of the best known bridges in central Alabama, filling the gap between East and West and providing power for the last 60 years.

Tallassee's signature gateway is a deck truss bridge, similar in design to the now destroyed span in Minnesota. Highway officials say even though the Tallassee bridge is older, you can still use it.

"The bridge in Tallassee is requiring more and more maintenance but aside from a few instances of temporary weight restrictions while some repairs were done that bridge remains safe," said state DOT spokesman Tony Harris.

Under federal law, all Alabama bridges are inspected every one or two years depending on their age and use.

The latest DOT numbers show Alabama has 14,839 spans and the report reveals how our infrastructure is aging.

The state says 2102 - or about 13% - are functionally obsolete.

That doesn't mean they're unsafe.

It actually refers to the bridge's ability to handle traffic flows. So if a bridge has two lanes when it really needs four or has too small of an emergency area, it gets that designation.

But another 2205 - or 15% - are termed structurally deficient.

Engineers say that means they do have problems associated with aging or stress and require some type of fix. The DOT says they're still usable, because if any bridge is dangerous, it's taken out of service.

"We don't take any chances with that," said Tony Harris. "We just simply close that bridge until repairs are made or replacement can be scheduled."

One of the biggest reasons Alabamians should take comfort is the 2002 referendum voters passed to address this problem. The one time bond allowed DOT to repair or replace 600 bridges engineers said were the worst in the state.

But the money from that bond is almost gone. DOT is about to sign the contracts on the last bridge it will replace.

You'll also remember we said two bridges in Alabama might get a second look because of the Minnesota accident.

The DOT says a smaller bridge over Highway 22 in Chilton County is also of a similar design. It also passed its last inspection.

However, Alabama bridges are about in the same condition as the national average, which says 28 percent are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

To replace about 150-thousand bridges in similiar condition nationwide would cost more than nine billion dollars

To merely fix them, the cost is about seven billion.