Cover Story: NC's bad bridges

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Our crumbling infrastructure.  More than 100,000 drivers a day pass over it.  And you could very well be one of them.

AAA Carolinas says the worst bridge in North Carolina is smack in the middle of Charlotte.  AAA says this is the most substandard bridge in North Carolina.

This is the Brookshire Freeway where it crosses over the railroad tracks and the NC Music Factory.

The traffic safety group and the NC DOT both say it doesn't pose an immediate threat to drivers right now.  But it doesn't stop them from raising a red flag on this and one-third of the other bridges in the state.

To drivers the bridge doesn't look that bad.  It's three lanes wide and in the city - Interstate 277 also called Brookshire Freeway just north of uptown.

Why is it number one?

"It's one of our most heavily traveled roads.. it's a substandard bridge that's going to deteriorate more quickly with that heavy traffic on it than other bridges," says AAA's Tom Crosby.

Using North Carolina DOT's data from inspections DOT does every two years of all 18,290 bridges in the state AAA takes the data, figures in traffic counts and determines its top 20 list in greatest need of attention.

The I-277 bridge one ranks high based on DOT criteria and amount of cars - more than 110,000 cars a day.  The other substandard bridges are in cities as well.

#2 and #3 are bridges on Business 40 and 85 in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.  #4 is US Highway 220 in Greensboro.  #5 is on Interstate 440 in Wake county.

And ranking sixth, the poster-child for bad bridges in North Carolina:  I-85's bridge over the Yadkin River.  It's being replaced as part of a $300 million project.

Crosby says the list is designed to raise awareness that our infrastructure is underfunded.

"We're seeing things deteriorate and yet without that money we're falling behind our neighboring states. We're going to be hard-pressed for companies to relocate here and it's going to get worse before it gets better," he says.

Every gallon of gas pumped - the taxes included in the price go to fund the state's roads and bridges.

The General Assembly's talking of capping the gas tax to keep it from going higher when gas goes higher.

Ask drivers filling if it's worth paying more to get better roads - now may not be the best time to pose that question.

"I feel strongly against that.. that's going to hurt the economy even more. I feel strongly against that to raise the gas up like that," said driver Tony Butler.

AAA says none of North Carolina's substandard bridges poses an immediate threat to drivers right now.

However Traffic Safety Manager Clinton Kemp showed us our ratio of substandard ones is among the highest in the southeast.

He said, "The substandard bridges account for 29-percent of all the bridges.. which is really high about 52-hundred bridges throughout the state."

Important to note, they are substandard not dangerous at the moment.

NC DOT routinely inspects bridges and will do maintenance, rehab and in some cases replace the bridge when it ages out.  In fact it's committing $150 million a year to replace bridges some of the state's oldest bridges.

What about the I-277 bridge on Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte, which was AAA's number one?

It's a 40-year old bridge.  DOT has kept up with maintaining it.  It's not on the list to be replaced.

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