MDOT: 3-year-old bridge ‘functionally obsolete’

The 36th Street bridge over US-131 in Wyoming. (May 8, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Of the 286 bridges in Kent County, 51 are considered functionally obsolete, a Michigan Department of Transportation report says.

According to MDOT, a functionally obsolete bridge has an “outdated” design:

“They may have lower load-carrying capacity, narrower shoulders or less clearance underneath than bridges built to the current standard,” MDOT’s website says.

“It doesn’t take much to get on that list — which is a good thing because that’s a good watchdog to have for Michigan travelers,” MDOT spokesperson John Richard said.

Of the 51 functionally obsolete bridges in Kent County, four were built in the past seven years. One was built as recently as 2011:

  • The College Avenue over I-196, in 2008
  • 44th Street over US-131, built in 2008
  • The on-ramp from Baldwin Steet to eastbound I-196, built in 2007
  • 36th Street over US-131, built in 2011

Richard said a number of problems could lead to a new bridge being labeled functionally obsolete, and not all are serious.

“It could be a cracked sidewalk. There could be a guardrail out of place or the fence could be not in the shape that it should be,” he said. “There are many things that could deem a bridge functionally obsolete or structurally deficient.”

The College Avenue bridge was labeled functionally obsolete because its lanes were built to be less than 12 feet wide so they would match the lanes leading up to the bridge, Richard said. The current standard width for state route lanes is 12 feet, but the rules for state and local roads aren’t the same.

“This happens when state bridges meet with the local system,” Richard told 24 Hour News 8. “It’s a ‘one size fits all’ equation for a multi-faceted system.”

MDOT says that some of the issues are quick fixes. Others aren’t. For example, if a bridge no longer meets the height requirement set by the federal government, upgrades can be much more costly and may not happen immediately.

“We’ve become very efficient at stretching a dollar because we’ve been losing $100 million a year for the past 10 to 15 years. That adds up quickly,” Richard said.

Kent County comes in sixth worst in Michigan in the state of its bridges, according to a study released this week by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. That study that ranked counties by the number of bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Thursday, the state House of Representatives voted to spend $450 million more each year to repair crumbling roads and bridges.

The plan shifts money from the state’s general fund to transportation, but it’s only a fraction of what experts say is needed.

Michigan is ranked dead last in the country in road and bridge investment, according to MDOT, and all the fixes needed would require a lot more money than it has.



MDOT’s list of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges

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