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Many Orange County Bridges Are Structurally Deficient

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Even as officials are pulling out crushed vehicles and scouring the waters of the Mississippi for dead bodies, the Orange County Register reports that our Orange County bridges are in no better condition. The article points out that 16 bridges in the county are in worse condition than the 35 W Bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis Aug. 1st killing four people and injuring many others. Eight people are still missing.

Apparently transportation officials in Minneapolis have known for 17 years that the bridge was in poor condition, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and all they’ve done in these years is to squabble among themselves about how to fix it. As a result, nothing was done to secure it. Nothing was done to make sure it would remain safe in the interim.

In Orange County 24 bridges are said to be “structurally deficient.” The Minneapolis bridge had a sufficiency rating of 50. An 80 rating or lower qualifies a bridge for the federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. According to the Register article, every 10th bridge in Orange County scored 80 or lower. Here’s the scary part. Sixteen of our bridges, right here in Orange County, have ratings equal to or worse than the collapsed bridge, which got a rating of 50.

Among them is the 78-year-old bridge on Ortega Highway that carries traffic over the San Juan Canyon, the Register reports. Another structurally deficient bridge is in downtown Fullerton on Harbor Boulevard just north of the Fox Theater. Here is another piece of information to ponder: The Register reports that there are 1,771 bridges in Orange County, according to the National Bridge Inventory. The newspaper’s analysis of the national database indicates that 24 local bridges were rated structurally deficient as of December 2006. That, it turns out, is the same evaluation that the Minneapolis bridge received on its latest inspection conducted in 2005.

What are county officials doing about our deficient bridges? State officials have said they will immediately re-inspect the 69 California bridges that have a structural design similar to the Minneapolis bridge. This outdated design produced strong bridges in the 1960s, but they have no redundancy system to duplicate important load-bearing parts. So if one part fails, the entire bridge can collapse.

It is a lot easier and cheaper to properly inspect and promptly repair bridges than to wait for a disaster. If a responsible governmental agency knows or should know that a bridge is “structurally deficient” and doesn’t either repair it or close it, then that agency will be held responsible for the resulting damages.

Minneapolis authorities are going to be answering a lot of questions and likely will be held responsible for the damages to people and property. California and Orange County officials have gotten a “wake up” call courtesy of Minneapolis. The question is: are they going to answer the call or bury their heads and hope there is no failure on their watch?

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