TxDOT keeps watch over 323 Victoria County bridges

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

May 24, 2013 at 12:24 a.m.
Updated May 25, 2013 at 12:25 a.m.

Thirty-eight Victoria County bridges are listed as "functionally obsolete," the same designation given to the Washington state bridge that collapsed Thursday evening.

While functionally obsolete does not mean structurally deficient or unsafe, it does mean the bridge was built to standards no longer used, said Mark Cross, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.

However, seven county bridges are considered structurally deficient. Across the state, Texas has 1,292 structurally deficient bridges, according to a 2012 TxDOT bridge report.

Structurally deficient can mean a bridge has an extreme restriction on its load-carrying capacity because of severe deterioration. The status also can mean the bridge is closed or that it is frequently overtopped during flooding, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Cross said Victoria County's 323 on- and off-system bridges are inspected regularly by TxDOT to comply with federal standards. On-system bridges are on federal and state highways.

Commissioner Danny Garcia said he monitors several Precinct 1 bridges, including one over the barge canal at the Port of Victoria and another leading to Guadalupe Elementary School.

"The concerns are with width, not structure," he said.

Garcia said oil-field traffic is wearing on the county's bridges, even where load limits are posted.

"We've got to find a way to save what we've got," he said.

TxDOT further rates bridges on a scale of zero to nine with nine being the best.

Garcia said when a bridge receives a six rating it's time to start looking for funding.

"You've got to take care of it before the bridge becomes a problem," he said.

In March, the Victoria Commissioners Court approved partnering with TxDOT to replace the Kohutek Road bridge in Precinct 2. That bridge will be replaced in 2018, Commissioner Kevin Janak said.

The federal off-system bridge program picked up the tab for the $210,000 project.

Precinct 4 has also benefited from that program. Garcia said he hopes to get some of that funding for structures in his precinct.

In the 2010 fiscal year, TxDOT spent $351.4 million on on-system bridges statewide: $31 million on bridge maintenance and $320.4 million on bridge replacement or rehabilitation.

Janak said repairs to the Washington state bridge could eat up funding intended for other bridge projects.

"Something like that doesn't just get built overnight," he said.

Janak said counties need to work closely with TxDOT to take advantage of the federal funding while it is still available.

"I try to stay on top of these bridges," Janak said. "A lot of these bridges now are eligible to be replaced."

Two bridges in Precinct 2 will be replaced in June. There are plans to replace the one-lane Oliver Road bridge along Spring Creek in 2017.

"I know it's everybody's tax dollars, but we need that funding from the fed to replace these bridges," Janak said. "There's no way in the world a county can replace a $1.2 million bridge on local tax dollars."

David Glessner, a spokesman for TxDOT, stated in an email that every bridge on the state system is inspected every 24 months.

He said preliminary reports indicate the Washington bridge collapse was not a condition-based collapse, meaning the failure was not triggered by the condition of the bridge but rather by a crash involving a truck that was too tall or overweight for safe passage across the structure.

Two heavily traveled bridges on TxDOT's radar are in the Gulf Bend area.

Glessner said the Copano Bay Causeway has a sufficiency rating of 40.8 and is structurally deficient, which made it eligible for the federal Highway Bridge Program.

The new Copano Bay Causeway is under construction with a price tag of $92.9 million.

The other bridge, the Lavaca Bay Causeway, has a sufficiency rating of 51 and is not structurally deficient, Glessner said, so the bridge is not currently a priority for replacement.

"Neither bridge is a safety concern," he wrote in the email.

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