One of the most stunning figures when it comes to infrastructure in America is the fact that one out of every three bridges in the country has identifiable repair needs. No matter where you live, there’s a good chance that you drive over a bridge on your way to work in the morning, and if you drive over three or more bridges, then there’s also a good chance you’re balancing your safety on a piece of “structurally deficient” infrastructure. Of course, this is a problem that is faced every day in Indiana.
In fact, 1,166 Hoosier bridges have been rated to be in “poor” condition by the Federal Highway Administration, meaning that nearly 3% of “poor” quality bridges in all 50 states are in Indiana. The pace of bridge repair is at its lowest point in half a decade, so the hazard of old and damaged bridges isn’t going away in the near future; in fact, some estimates say it would take 80 years to fully restore every bridge in America to good quality. With that in mind, here is a review of the dangers of unstable bridges, as well as some things everyone – from individual drivers to the Department of Transportation – can do to keep those who traverse these bridges safe.
The process for evaluating bridge quality is complex, and just because a bridge has been rated structurally deficient or in need of repairs doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be driven on or that it is on the verge of imminent collapse. To an extent, transportation infrastructure is made to withstand wear and tear, and it should be able to hold up for some time even after it’s been damaged. The process engineers use to actually make a rating consists of examining each key component of a bridge, including the deck, superstructure, substructure, and culverts and evaluating the condition they are in. The Indiana Department of Transportation assesses these elements on a scale of 1 to 9, with a lower score indicating more severe deterioration. If any element receives a score of 4 or worse, then the bridge is found to be in need of repairs.
Indiana Bridges in Need of Repair
Indiana is at the middle of the pack when it comes to national bridge quality, coming in 24th place compared to the bridges in other states. While this may sound like an acceptable number, it’s important to remember that this number means Hoosiers actually deal with damaged bridges almost constantly. In fact, the most-traveled, structurally-deficient bridge in Marion Country is crossed almost 200,000 times a day! The American Road & Transportation Builders Association provides a map where you can learn about bridge quality by congressional district and state, and this map reveals that there are almost 50 structurally deficient bridges in the Indianapolis area alone.
In some rural Indiana counties, the number of structurally deficient bridges rises to almost 26%. When it comes to bridges across the state, 6% are considered to be structurally deficient, and almost 14% have been identified for “needed repairs.”
The reason why structurally deficient bridges are so concerning is that a structurally deficient bridge is more likely to fail. Bridge failures are extremely dangerous and often cause property damage, severe injuries, and even fatalities. Though rare, when bridge failures do occur, they almost always cause tragedy, such as in March of 2020, when six Hoosiers were killed by a bridge being swept away by floodwater. These lives were lost in part due to the fact that authorities were slow to take action and block off the bridge to the public once they had been informed that one of the approaches had been destroyed.
Safe Driving on Bridges
Drivers are not to blame for crashes caused by poor bridge quality. In many cases, there is nothing a motorist can do to prevent an accident, such as when a bridge collapses. However, there are some steps you can take to be safer when dealing with potentially dangerous bridges:
- Avoid sudden movements. When driving over a bridge, avoid sudden acceleration, braking, or lane movement. The close quarters of bridges make it harder for other drivers to react to changing conditions.
- Be aware. Although weather conditions can affect all roadways, they are often particularly severe over bridges. Be on the lookout for rain, ice, fog, or other conditions that may make a bridge difficult to navigate and be prepared to slow down if you run into these conditions.
- Inform the authorities. If necessary, you should help keep the authorities in the loop about decaying infrastructure. If you see a bridge that is in disrepair or in some way dangerous, protect your fellow Hoosiers by making sure the issue is quickly reported so it can be resolved.
Every crash that takes place on a bridge will be different, but there are some parties that may commonly be liable for an accident. Inspectors, designers, builders, and even the government agency that maintains the bridge could all potentially be liable if you are injured as a result of a deteriorating bridge.
Investment in Indiana’s Bridges
While it’s clear that the bridges in Indiana need more upkeep than they’re getting, the Indiana Department of Transportation is not unaware of the problem. Customer satisfaction surveys have suggested that Hoosiers are rightfully worried about the bridges we drive over. As a result, the Department has invested $1.6 billion into bridge upkeep over the past four years, with a focus on improving maintenance on bridges we already have instead of building new ones. This strategy is more cost-effective for taxpayers and more safety-focused for drivers. This effort, along with similar efforts in other states, has helped to drive the number of structurally deficient bridges – as well as the accidents they may cause – slowly but steadily downward.
Injured in an Indiana Bridge Accident? Call Stewart & Stewart Attorneys
Have you or a loved one suffered an accident on a bridge in Indiana? The team at Stewart & Stewart Attorneys is here to fight for your rights and work hard to bring your bridge crash case to a fair resolution. Don’t wait; call 1-866-925-3011 24/7/365 or contact us online for a free consultation with an experienced vehicle accident attorney. There’s no fee unless we win.