FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 12, 2007

CONTACT: Sebastian D’Elia
Communications Director
Office: 908-527-4419 - Cell: 908-770-3662

 

CARE OF BRIDGES A LONG TERM EFFORT
By
Daniel P. Sullivan
Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Keeping a bridge safe and fit for traffic is an endless process of inspection, maintenance, and repair.  It’s expensive, too.  But it’s got to be done. In Union County, there is no way around it: we are responsible for 407 bridges, ranging in size from 5 feet long to major spans of up to 240 feet.

The collapse of the Interstate 35 West Bridge in Minneapolis underscores the need to invest in bridge safety.  As investigators work to determine what happened, one thing is clear.  Whatever the cause – flaws in the original design, undetected or unaddressed deterioration, an ongoing reconstruction project, or a combination of these - the result was a terrible tragedy.

Over the years, Union County residents have understood the need for a long term program of preventive care.  One of the most important actions came in 1999, when County voters helped to approve the statewide $500 million Bridge Bond Act.

Union County put its $12 million share of the bond money to good use.  Among our bridges, 130 are considered to be major spans of 20 feet long or more, and they are covered by state and federal inspection requirements.  In 1999, 22 of these bridges were rated structurally deficient.  Now, after a reconstruction program totaling approximately $30 million in federal, state, and County funds, we are down to only six, and work is underway on these.

A structurally deficient rating means that the bridge needs attention in a timely manner, before problem areas worsen and require more costly work in the future. That’s exactly what the Bond Act was meant to address, and thanks to Union County residents it’s working.

In the very rare cases when inspectors find a serious problem, the bridge is closed immediately. That eliminates all danger to the public until the bridge is either repaired or replaced.

There is a good reason why bridge closings are rare in Union County. The County and State keep careful watch over all of our major bridges through a regulated two-year inspection program. And, though not required by state or federal law, County residents support a budget that includes regular inspections of 277 bridges under the 20 foot limit.

All 407 county bridges also get regular care. Our crews fill potholes, cut back vegetation, and sweep away grit and salt after winter. Our bridges all cross waterways, and our crews must clear fallen trees, branches and other waterborn debris after storms. None of this is “marching-band” material, but it prevents tragedy.

Union County has not added more numbers to its bridges in many years. Today’s County residents are not in the business of expansion, only of caring for a completed system that we inherited from the generations before us.

I am proud to say that the people of Union County take their stewardship role seriously. The next generation will know that we made the right investments and we paid attention, day in and day out, to preserve a safe and sound infrastructure for the future.