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Bridge Collapse in Italy Shines Light on CA's Aging Bridges

A deadly bridge collapse in Italy is raising new concerns about the safety of bridges in the United States. The highway bridge located in Italy’s port city of Genoa was 51-years old when it collapsed on Tuesday, killing 39 people.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit reviewed the Department of Transportation’s 2017 National Bridge Inventory and found there are 13,721 bridges in California 50 years old or older — 1,960 of which are located in the Bay Area.

The Investigative Unit also found 336 bridges in the Bay Area are ranked as “structurally deficient,” meaning essential structural elements are in need of repair.

“I want to emphasize that if a bridge is not safe we shut it down,” Laurie Berman, Director of California’s Department of Transportation (Caltrans), told the Investigative Unit in an interview earlier this year.

The California Department of Transportation oversees and maintains the state’s 25,657 bridges. Berman says concerns over aging infrastructure come down to funding and prioritizing maintenance.

“We do need a new paradigm shift in how we look at our infrastructure,” Berman said. “It’s a lot like when I put a new roof on my house. It’s necessary but it’s nothing I go and show off to my neighbors. But it’s necessary and we need to recognize that our infrastructure is really necessary to maintain.”

Caltrans is facing a backlog of bridge repairs. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit found 135 Bay Area bridges deemed “structurally deficient” in 2013 remain on the list today. 

Congressman Jeff Denham, who represents California’s 10th District and serves on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says while Congress has taken notice the question remains ‘where’s the money?’.

“It’s frustrating that we can’t expedite them [bridges] or refurbish a lot of them rather than just rebuilding them,” Congressman Jeff Denham said in an interview. “These bridges, most of them, were having a life cycle of 50 years and they’re now 100 years old. And so there are some that we just need to tear down and start anew. It’s unacceptable for the state. It’s unacceptable for the federal government. We not only need a big infrastructure package from a federal government perspective, but we also need the state to do a better job as well.”

Caltrans Director Berman agrees both the state and federal governments need to do more to address the issue. Berman says new money coming in from SB-1, which was signed into law in April 2017 and raised the California’s gas tax, will go a long way to fixing these problematic bridges.

“We believe that the SB-1 dollars are really going to make a significant difference in the structurally deficient bridges or the bridges that are rated poor,” Berman said. “And it’s going to improve the whole system.”

SB-1 is expected to generate an estimated $52.4 billion between 2017 and 2027, according to the state Senate Appropriations Committee. The revenue is aimed at repairing California’s roads and bridges and other transportation projects.

But SB-1 revenue is now at risk by Proposition 6, a California ballot initiative which would repeal taxes and fees enacted through SB-1 and require voter approval for future fuel and vehicle taxes. Voters will decide the future of SB-1 on November 06, 2018 in the General Election.

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Source: NBC Bay Area

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