13News Now Investigation: Hampton Roads bridge safety

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by Nick Ochsner, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on December 5, 2013 at 7:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 8:00 PM

HAMPTON ROADS -- A 13News Now investigation has found that some bridges in Hampton Roads are considered to be in just as poor condition as the Bonner Bridge, which was suddenly closed Tuesday afternoon after NCDOT engineers deemed it unsafe.

A review of bridge ratings maintained as part of the National Bridge Inventory found three area bridges with single-digit fitness ratings.

The Bonner Bridge has a fitness rating of four out of 100. The bridge is also deemed structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

The westbound lanes of the Lessner Bridge in Virginia Beach, which carries an estimated 20,500 cars each day, has a sufficiency rating of 7.5. Another bridge in Suffolk, on Turlington Rd. over the Kilby Creek Spillway, is rated five and the 22nd St. bridge over Seaboard Ave. in Chesapeake has a rating of just two.

"That number is a number. It's a number that's created out of a calculation the federal government has started," VDOT district engineer Jim Long said. "We look at the number but we also look at the condition of the bridge and make sure whatever we have open is safe for the traveling public."

Long told 13News Now that engineers regularly inspect all bridges to look for signs of deterioration, including cracking concrete, deterioration of beams and rusting steal. Bridges with lower sufficiency ratings are inspected more frequently.

Engineers can place restrictions on the bridge, such as lowering its maximum allowable load capacity, to keep it safely in service. But, ultimately, Long said any bridge that's open to the public is safe to drive on.

"If we were going to deem something that needed to be closed, we'd do the same thing that North Carolina is doing, we would close it," Long said.

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