On Your Side: Damage to Central Ohio bridges and how inspectors make your drive safer

There are 43,000 bridges in Ohio. (WSYX/WTTE)

They get you from point A to point B and everywhere else in between connecting people to places.

There are 43,000 bridges in Ohio.

Forty-thousands drivers cross Ohio’s tallest bridge each day, the newer Jeremiah Morrow Bridge on I-71 between Cincinnati and Columbus. A much smaller bridge outside Granville has an average daily traffic of 795. It was built 28 years ago and alreadywear and tear on the bridge shows.

“If you can see that crack right there that’s delaminated at some point. That crack area is going to end up falling off,” said Licking County Engineer Jared Knerr.

Knerr pointed out something more glaring underneath another span.

“There’s some strands showing there on the beams,” said Knerr.

Bridges are rated on a zero to nine scale. One ODOT engineer says nine is perfect and anything four or less would be considered deficient.

“Because this is rated a four, three is critical. So it’s poor, not critical yet. But because it’s rated a four, we are required to do the load rating,” said Knerr.

Knerr has more than 30 bridges under his watch that need replacement. The Fairmount Road bridge is the worst. It’s now closed for construction, which is scheduled for completion by or before July 1st.

“The bridge deck was sunk down about an inch, an inch-and-a-half, two inches,” said Knerr.

There are more than 2,300 bridges in the state rated four and under. ABC 6/FOX 28 counted 194 in Franklin, Licking, Delaware, Fairfield, Pickaway, Madison and Union counties.

The Little Walnut road bridge in Pickaway is closed and has been for more than six years. The Pickaway County engineer says it won’t be replaced because of the size, cost, and minimal detour.

At Newark’s Cherry Valley Road bridge, concrete has fallen away. The city engineer says it’s too narrow with a history of crashes. Newark plans to shut it down and build a new bridge nearby in 2021.

ODOT maintains 14,095 bridges in the state, including the 4th Street bridge over I-70. It’s on the state’s fix list either as part of a bigger project or separately. As of right now, there’s no money for it yet.

ABC 6/FOX 28 got a rare glimpse at an ODOT inspection of the Jeremiah Morrow.

“Just because it’s new doesn’t mean something couldn’t go wrong, just a lot less likely anything would be wrong,” said ODOT Structural Planning Engineer, Brandon Collette.

We donned harnesses and hardhats for a unique perspective from a snooper truck. ODOT structural engineer, Jared Backs, is our guide. The underbelly soon becomes within reaching distance. We were about 235 feet above the Little Miami River underneath the tallest bridge in Ohio. Inspectors tell us they like to get within 20 feet of every part of a bridge and a snooper truck allows them to do that.

“We’re looking for typical deficiencies that occur in concrete; things like cracking, delamination, or spalls in concrete,” said Backs.

The federal government requires bridge inspections every two years in the United States. In Ohio, they’re done every year.

“Weather especially in Ohio, we are salting our bridges constantly. The salt accelerates deterioration on it. The more salt, the more deterioration you have,” said Collette.

ODOT is funded through the federal and state gas tax to fix bridges. The state says it can always use more money to do more.

Back in Licking County, signs are posted to keep heavy trucks off the bridge outside Granville. Knerr says it’s meant to keep it from failing and extend its life span.

“This damage is happening. It’s happening at this gap, so it could be the salt and the water working its way down through,” said Knerr.

He says bridge disasters are terrifying to engineers.

“Call it your worst nightmare. You want to design stuff to be safe,” said Knerr.

While the bridge outside Granville is on the replacement list, it’s all about the money right now.

“We’re starting the design for this to replace it. I know we have it on our list to be replaced this year but the reality is I think budget-wise this is on the low end of the list,” said Knerr.

Knerr says he only has about $500,000 left in this year’s budget and won’t know until this summer what he’ll get for additional funding. ODOT says it plans out repairs or replacements before they get to a critical state.

As for the 4th Street bridge, if there isn’t money for replacement by 2023, ODOT says it will replace the deck.

Again, the bulk of ODOT’s funding comes from the federal and state gas tax, which is affected by fuel-efficient cars.

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