Apr 17, 2017

Austin’s Bridges Are as Good as Its Traffic Is Bad

Reporting Texas

AUSTIN – Commuting in the state’s capital is famously gnarly, but at least drivers don’t have to worry about bridges collapsing under a traffic jam.

Travis County has just two bridges whose structures aren’t up to the loads they carry, according to the 2016 National Bridge Inventory, and one has been closed for more than a decade.

The inventory, published by the Federal Highway Administration, catalogs 4.6 million bridges nationwide. Of those, 189,000, or about 4 percent, are “structurally deficient.” Texas has nearly 12 percent of all bridges, but just 1.2 percent of the ones most badly needing repair. California, the only state with more bridges, has 14 percent of the national total and 11.5 percent of those needing work.

Travis County fares better than the state and nation, with just two of 1,374 bridges classified as deficient. One is an unused portion of the bridge that spans Interstate 35 at Cameron Road. Kelli Reyna, a public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said it was closed about 15 years ago.

“I’m not even sure why it’s still on the list,” Reyna said.

The lanes under use at the Cameron Road overpass are under renovation now as part of a TxDOT upgrade, not because they had structural problems.

The second bridge is a truss structure built in 1925. It carries Old Manor Road across Walnut Creek in East Austin and can’t be torn down because of its historic status. Mo Mortazavi, a Travis County project manager, said a parallel bridge was built in 2009. The new span carries westbound traffic, and the old one, eastbound.

Mortazavi said the old bridge needs repairs and he’s talking with TxDOT about the availability of federal funds for the project.

“We know about the deficient bridge. We’re just coming up with a way to pay for it,” Mortazavi said.

Pirouz Moin, a public works engineer for the city of Austin, said his department gets regular updates from TxDOT on bridge conditions.

“They send us inspection ratings and sufficiency ratings of bridges ranked from 1 to 100,” Moin said. “A rank of 50 is a very poor rating, so we check on those immediately.”