States Scramble to Inspect Bridges for Safety

In the wake of the Minneapolis bridge collapse Wednesday that killed four and injured more than 60, states across the nation are scrambling to make sure their bridges are safe.

North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas and New Jersey are among the states inspecting their bridges.

The North Carolina Transportation Department secretary ordered inspectors on Thursday to immediately prepare a report on the safety of substandard bridges across North Carolina following Wednesday’s events.

"We have a rigorous and aggressive bridge inspection and oversight program," said department spokesman Ernie Seneca, adding that every bridge is inspected at least every two years. If inspectors uncover an immediate safety problem, Seneca said, the bridge is shut down for repairs.

Missouri will be taking similar measures according to a state a Transportation Department spokesman. Jeff Briggs said they will begin immediately inspecting any bridges that have a similar design as the one that collapsed in Minnesota.

"We're figuring out how many similar structures we have and where they are,” he said. “We are beginning a very close-up examination of the bridges today. We're looking for possible problems and we will fix them."

Missouri has 10,000 bridges in its state highway system. Officials are now identifying which of them are deck arch truss bridges, which is the type that collapsed in Minnesota.

Highway officials in Arkansas also said Thursday nearly 1,000 of their state bridges are rated structurally deficient, the same federal designation given to the bridge that collapsed. State Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Glenn Bolick said the designation does not mean any of the 963 deficient bridges must be closed.

"If any of them were unsafe, we would close them," Bolick said.

In Maine, Gov. John Baldacci sought Thursday to reassure motorists who use bridges that they are safe and inspected regularly, but he did order a list of spans listed as structurally deficient to be double-checked. Baldacci said Maine conducts a bridge inventory inspection every two years, which includes all state and local bridges. Older bridges are inspected every year, he said.

"I've asked them to put the bridge inventory together ... to see what's going on, if there are any weaknesses or deficiencies that we should be addressing," Baldacci said.

New Jersey Governor Corzine is ordering state transportation officials to immediately inspect more than 6,000 bridges in the state, calling for an interim report in a week and a final report in 45 days.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered an immediate inspection Thursday of all bridges in the state with similar designs In 2005, the 40-year-old bridge had been rated as "structurally deficient" and possibly in need of replacement, according to a federal database. The span rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability in that review, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

Washington's Governor Chris Gregoire likewise asked bridge inspectors for a quick report on the state's 3,000 bridges, especially any that are similar to the span that collapsed in Minneapolis. Gregoire and the Legislature are particularly worried about the potential collapse of two high-traffic spans in the Seattle area: the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the Elliott Bay waterfront and the Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general last year criticized the Federal Highway Administration's oversight of interstate bridges, saying investigators found incorrect or outdated maximum weight limit calculations and weight limit postings in the National Bridge Inventory and in states' bridge databases.

Incorrect load ratings could endanger bridges by allowing heavier vehicles to cross than should be allowed, the inspector general said. The audit did not identify any Minnesota bridges beyond noting that 3 percent of the state's bridges were structurally deficient, placing it at the low end among states.

Pawlenty said Thursday that there was no indication from that and other reviews that the bridge should be shut down. Peters added that "none of those ratings indicated there was any kind of danger."

Compiled with Associated Press reports.