Sick Bridges: An Eagle Eye Team Special Report

Q&A | What You Need To Know About Ailing Bridges in Massachusetts


Q. If a bridge is old and in bad shape, how do I know it’s safe?

A MassDOT says it runs a rigorous inspection program with federal oversight. Bridges in the state have to be inspected every two years. If the bridge is unsafe, the state will close it, reduce travel lanes or impose a weight limit.

Q. Is a bridge rated structurally deficient safe to drive on?

A Yes. Structurally deficient bridges are inspected every six months. 

Q. How many bridges in Berkshire County are structurally deficient? 

A. In all, there are 48 bridges in that category 20 feet or longer.

Q. Has anyone died or been injured in the state because of a structurally deficient bridge?

A No, says the state’s chief bridge engineer.

Q. How many bridges in the state are structurally deficient?

A. Out of the state’s 5,171 bridges, 432 are structurally deficient, as of a recent tally.

Q. What would it take to repair all the structurally deficient bridges in the state?

A. A whopping $3.3 billion, according to The Boston Globe, which also reported that it would take roughly $14.4 billion to repair every state bridge that needed it.

Q What happens if a state-owned bridge on an important travel artery is closed? 

A If a closed bridge causes sustained traffic headaches, and if the bridge will take longer to fix or replace than anticipated, MassDOT will likely install a temporary bridge while it continues to work on the existing one.

Q. What does it mean when a bridge is posted?

A. “Load posting” is the installment of a weight limit sign on a bridge that needs to be protected from the stress of heavier loads that may cause more wear and tear.

Q.Why do we have so many needy bridges?

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A. Many bridges need repairs because of their age. The state and towns don’t have enough money to maintain, fix or replace all of them.

Q. Does ordering and installing a prefabricated bridge make a bridge replacement go faster?

A. It did for a recent replacement in Monterey, which took six months. Usually it takes several years or more, from design to completion, to construct a new bridge.

Q. Do bridges under 20 feet long qualify for federal money?

A. No. This is why the Baker administration promised $50 million in help for these bridges as part of the state’s Small Bridge Program.

Q. Why are culverts so expensive to fix?

A. The state Department of Environmental Protection has increased regulations, upping costs.

Q. How long does a typical state-owned bridge replacement take?

A. From design to finish, it can take several years or more, depending.

Q. Why is transportation funding from the state to towns decreasing?

A. Other costs like healthcare and insurance are pinching it, according to a state lawmaker. And federal help to all states has declined since 1980.

Q. How much federal transportation money does the state usually get?

A. About $600 million over a five-year period.

Q President Donald Trump says his infrastructure plan could do $1 trillion in work to the nation’s roads and bridges. Won’t that help?

A. Local officials and U.S. lawmakers say Trump’s private/public plan to leverage taxpayer money is ill-defined, that it won’t help rural regions like the Berkshires where there aren’t many tolls, and that $1 trillion isn’t enough. The American Society of Civil Engineers says the U.S. needs $3.2 trillion in infrastructure work. And if new money should come to Boston, one lawmaker worries that a fair share of it might not reach the Berkshires.

Q. Doesn’t the gas tax help underwrite infrastructure repairs?

A. Yes. After the state raised it to 24 cents per gallon in 2013, revenue went up by $100 million. But state voters refused to adjust the gas tax for inflation in 2014. And the national gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. It’s still at 18 cents per gallon. 


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