Nearly 9% of bridges across Illinois are in poor condition, or 2,374 structures.
Data updated yearly by the Federal Highway Administration shows there were more bridge structures in poor condition as of 2020 than at any other point in the last 27 years. On the agency’s interactive site, performance history for bridges across the U.S. dates back to 1993.
In many cases, maintenance and repair responsibilities fall on cities, counties, and other local municipalities. As for most interstates and highways, that’s the state’s authority.
In Illinois, the state is responsible for a little more than 30% of the bridges that are in poor condition by federal standards. The maintenance of those 723 bridges is managed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, paid for by taxpayers. Repairs are typically 90% funded by federal dollars, the remaining 10% comes from the state.
IDOT inspects state bridges biannually, overseeing 8,409 structures, according to the Hwy Administration’s list.
U.S. 150 where it crosses over I-74 in Oakwood, Illinois in Vermilion County has been in poor condition since August 2007.
So, why have some of these bridges, or at least pieces of them (whether the deck or the superstructure, etc.), been in poor condition for ten years or so?
According to IDOT Public Information Officer Paul Wappel, it depends.
“There are a lot of bridges that are old, you know, some are needing more repair than others,” he shared. “It just depends.”
Wappel said a complicated laundry list of data dictates when bridges are prioritized for repair. It basically comes down to the severity of the bridge’s condition, and if money is available to cover the cost.
“If it’s in poor condition, it could be a number of things,” Wappel explained. “Maybe some of the beams are deteriorating, maybe it’s some of the bridge deck is coming apart. It could be a lot of different things.”
According to federal standards, poor condition does not equal unsafe, and it does not mean a bridge has to be shut down. The section of I-74 that crosses over N Market St. in Champaign is in poor condition but remains a high-traffic overpass. Construction just began on the bridge. It’s set to be completed in November 2022.
“First of all, if any bridge is unsafe or dangerous, we will not have it open,” Wappel added. “It will be closed.”
Aside from safety, the bumps and uneven roads caused by deteriorating bridges can take a costly toll on your car.
“Naturally, that’s the reason they’re coming in,” shared Mike Kirby, a part-owner of his family-run business, Kirby’s Tire & Service Center.
Kirby said this year has been particularly rough on drivers, needing repairs at not so insignificant prices.
“We’ll get a car in here and it’ll hit both the right front and the right rear tire, and blow both the tire and the rim out. Well guess what, they’re spending $600,” he said, gesturing to the front tire. “…$600,” Kirby said again, as he gestured to the back tire.
“…Then they got front-end problems. That could be another $1,000, so you know, you could be spending $2,000.”
When asked how often he sees people come in, complaining it was the bridges or roads that caused the issues with their vehicles, Kirby paused and said, “Daily, if not every other day.”
According to Wappel, 48 state bridges are currently in poor condition between Champaign, Vermilion, Macon, and Sangamon Counties. That is nine less than are listed on the last update on the U.S. Hwy Administration’s database, finalized at the end of 2020.
IDOT typically inspects poor condition bridges more often than the biannual standard. WCIA asked Wappel if he ever worries that an inspection won’t catch an issue on those bridges soon enough.
He replied, “It’s obviously extremely important. It’s critical to do a great job on the inspections, to be thorough. I have all the confidence in the world that when we inspect those bridges, we inspect everything we can.”
In Fiscal Year 2020, IDOT repaired about 1.4 million square feet of deck on 61 bridges. 2021 data is not available yet.
Those repairs were made, in part, with money allocated in the Rebuild Illinois plan passed by state lawmakers in 2019.
Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced another six-year, $20.7 billion construction plan to improve roads and bridges, also through Rebuild Illinois.
One of the bridges already under construction is that portion of I-74 over N Market St. in Champaign. Wappel said this, alone, is a $32 million project. It also includes a section of the interstate over the Illinois Central Railroad.
Ultimately, this additional $20 billion will not cover all of the repairs needed on the state’s bridges.
The number keeps climbing. Five years ago, 6.45% of all bridges in Illinois were in poor condition, compared to 8.84% in 2020. Rewind even further and you’ll find 2003 marked the least poor condition structures in the last thirty years, with 3.72%.
If you notice a bridge or a road in disrepair near you, email the Target 3 team: Target3@WCIA.com.