Transportation
6:18 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

1,354 Michigan bridges found "unsafe"

More than 12% of Michigan bridges have been deemed "structurally unsafe"  by the group Transportation for America.

Grosse Ile Toll Bridge
Credit wikimedia.org

Michigan has about 11,000 bridges. The group says 1,354 of those could be dangerous.

So, if more than 1 out of 10 bridges in Michigan is  "unsafe," how bad are they really?

"It's a term that seems ominous," said Jeff Cranson of Michigan Department of transportation, "and it's something that we need to take seriously. Obviously though, if any were significantly unsafe, we'd close them. The ones on the list are slated for significant work in the near future. But we can't keep up."

According to the national report by Transportation for America, the term "structurally unsafe" refers to a bridge that "require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement."  

Cranson said it's part of a much larger problem with Michigan roads.

The typical bridge is built to last roughly 50 years. The average Michigan bridge was built at least 43 years ago, with many installed in the early 1960s. The 1,354 "unsafe" bridges in Michigan are about 65 years old. So, all these bridges are beginning to need significant updates.

However, that takes money, which Michigan is currently not allocating to road and bridge repair.

Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed $1.2 billion investment in Michigan roads could help, Cranson said. Some of the changes under state legislation could include higher gas taxes and higher vehicle registration fees. However, nothing has passed in Lansing. 

"They [the bridges] are a major source of truck and commercial traffic," said Cranson. "And it's not just about Detroit, but about the whole state and whole region. Several states depend on sending truck traffic on these corridors, and they're key links to another country."

Unsafe bridges by county. Red: 17% , Orange: 12-17%, Yellow: 7-12%. Green: 0-7%
Credit Transportation For America

The counties that have the largest problem with unsafe bridges were Missaukee, Marquette, Kalkaska, Mason, and Cass counties. Otsego and Leelanau counties topped the list with no findings of unsafe bridges.

Overall, the number of "structurally unsafe" bridges has decreased nationally over the last decade, but the improvements have stalled out since 2009.

This is part of a campaign begun by Transportation for America to repair bridges nationwide. Across the country, the group says 1 out of very 9 bridges is unsafe.

-Alana Holland, Michigan Radio Newsroom