Counties struggle to pay for bridge repairs

elmore county
elmore county
Updated: Sep. 27, 2018 at 6:41 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A bridge may look like it’s in great condition on top but underneath is a different story. For example, the picture below shows the steel plates under the bridge corroding. This means it can’t hold as much weight as before.

Alabama counties are struggling to foot the bill and pay for bridge repairs.

“It pains us to not be able to do what we need to do," said Elmore County Chief Engineer and Operations Manager Richie Beyer.

There are 1,091 structurally deficient county bridges in the state, according to December of 2017 data. There are 8,525 bridges in the state.

That same data shows five structurally deficient bridges in Elmore County, one in Montgomery and 15 in Macon County.

Structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe or needs to close.

“The bridge is reaching a point in its life where it’s eligible for federal funding or rehabilitation," said Tony Harris with the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Beyer said the typical life span for a bridge is 50 years and counties need to prepare to repair those bridges when they reach that age.

“What we see though is on the horizon what a lot of counties are dealing with is you’ve got a large number that were built in the same time frame that are over 25 years,” Beyer said. “We’ve been working on plans to get those bridges replaced and upgraded."

Elmore County has around 74 percent of its bridges that are above that 25-year cycle.

“We’ve got an issue coming," Beyer said. “Now there’s a lot of counties who are already in that."

But many of these counties are struggling to fund those projects.

It pains us to not be able to do what we need to do.

Counties have control of about two-thirds of all bridges in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“They have the overwhelming majority of structurally deficient bridges,” Harris said.

Sometimes to keep these structurally deficient bridges in service there is a weight limit put on them.

Currently counties can use money through an Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement program that began during Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration. However, this program ends in early 2019.

ALDOT and county engineers have suggested raising the gas tax to help pay for transportation repair costs.

"We will be needing more funding for bridge replacement over the next ten to 15 years.

Cities are allowed to pass a gas tax but counties are not. The last time the state gas tax was raised was in 1992. To raise the state gas tax, it would need to go through the state legislature.

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