AAA ranks Yadkin River bridge among state’s worst

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Staff report
CHARLOTTE ó The Yadkin River bridge over Interstate 85 ranks as the 11th worst in North Carolina, according to AAA Carolinas.
Local and state leaders and Department of Transportation officials have expressed concerns about the 1955 bridge, which AAA Carolinas lists as “structurally deficient.”
DOT engineers say the bridge (actually two bridges) is sound but narrow and should be replaced. There is no identified funding for the replacement as of now.
For several years, its replacement has been part of a proposed I-85 widening project (from four to eight lanes) from north of Long Ferry Road into Davidson County.
The Yadkin River bridge has average daily traffic of 55,000 vehicles and average weekly traffic of 385,000 cars and trucks.
The N.C. Turnpike Authority has conducted a financial feasibility study of funding a Yadkin River bridge replacement by making it a toll bridge, but local and state leaders would have to approve such a move.
The estimated construction cost of the 6.8-mile widening project with a toll facility has increased to almost $400 million.
The Yadkin River bridge is included in an annual ranking of the state’s top 20 substandard bridges, compiled by AAA Carolinas.
An affiliate of the American Automobile Association, AAA Carolinas was founded in 1922 as a not-for-profit organization that now serves nearly 1.6 million members with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of travelers.
Substandard bridges are officially classified under federal guidelines as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” AAA Carolinas assigns extra weight to traffic volume to highlight the bridges that affect the most motorists.
“Structurally deficient” is defined as being in relatively poor physical condition and/or inadequate to handle traffic demands. “Functionally obsolete” is defined as having inadequate design for current traffic volume.
States inspect bridges biannually to determine their condition. Of North Carolina’s substandard bridges, 13 percent are structurally deficient, higher than the 10.9 percent national average, and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, higher than the 13 percent national average.
A 21st Century Transportation Committee appointed by the state legislature is looking at ways to provide funding to deal with the state’s looming transportation infrastructure crisis.
In addition to its bridge network, North Carolina’s roads are also in worse shape than any contiguous neighboring state, according to federal statistics.
State Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, is on that special committee.
Two bridges in Greensboro and one bridge in Winston-Salem rank as North Carolina’s worst bridges, according to AAA Carolinas.
None of North Carolina’s substandard bridges pose an immediate safety problem for motorists at this time.
The average age of AAA’s top 20 substandard bridges, which carry a total of 6.5 million vehicle miles weekly, is now 50 years old.
The DOT spent $67 million on bridge and structure maintenance and replaced 99 bridges last year at a cost of $200 million, in addition to using $25 million in the past few years from the N.C. Moving Ahead funding for bridge work.
This year, DOT estimates that $350 million would be needed to meet all maintenance and repair needs and $2.5 billion would be needed to replace all substandard bridges.