Are Our Bridges Any Safer?

Last Saturday afternoon, Johnny Do was driving to a music festival with his wife and two children when a 1,200-pound chunk of concrete dropped from a bridge in the Minneapolis area and crashed onto the Interstate just feet from the family's minivan.

Do, who saw the concrete crush a car in front of him and smash into hundreds of pieces, was still savoring his good luck as he told ABC affiliate KSTP, "Seconds later, I would [have] hit that piece."

The bridge, located just eight miles from the infamous Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed a year ago today, killing 13 people in the deadliest such disaster in a generation, was inspected last August by state officials,who found it to be deteriorating but safe.

Since last year's fatal collapse, states and counties have spent billions of dollars on inspections and repairs. But a number of the country's most vulnerable bridges have yet to be fixed or replaced, according to an analysis by ABCNews.com.

"People are talking more about bridge safety," said William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California-Berkeley. The Minneapolis collapse "raised the issue higher on radar screens, but show me the money."

Some of that money is beginning to emerge, with six states spending an extra $8.3 billion for bridge and road spending.

Last week, another $1 billion was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives for bridge work, though President Bush has threatened to veto the expenditure.

But with many of the nation's highly trafficked, aging bridges still in need of updates, the repair process has been too slow, in the eyes of some.

"I still don't see the money coming for repairs and for infrastructure improvements, in general," Ibbs said. "Bridges are continuing to age and there is more traffic, with heavier vehicles on them over time and changing weather patterns, which make for a dangerous freeze-thaw cycle."

Some May Need Replacement

Twenty heavily trafficked bridges across the country scored a lower structural integrity rating than the I-35W bridge before its collapse and "may need to be replaced," according to a report last year by ABC News's Brian Ross.

Over the past year, some of those bridges underwent repair work. Others were subject to routine maintenance. Others are slated to be replaced.

At least one bridge actually received a worse rating in 2007 than it got in 2006, despite efforts to repair it.

Colorado's South Platte Bridge over I-25ML, which rated a 36 percent in 2006, dropped to 24.5 percent in 2007, despite the fact that repair work was done to the steel columns and steel plates in December 2006, according to Mindy Crane, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The sufficiency rating, which calculates everything from the condition of a bridge's deck and abutments to its weight limits and roadway width, indicates a bridge's sufficiency to remain in service, with 100 percent representing an entirely sufficient bridge and zero percent representing an entirely deficient bridge.

No additional work has been done on South Platte bridge since it received that rating. State bridge engineer Mark Leonard said the lowered rating was due to the decision to lower the load capacity of the structure and emphasized that the bridge is "structurally sound."

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