NORFOLK -- The number of problem bridges in Hampton Roads has increased from a year ago, according to a 13News Now comparison of bridge ratings from July 2013 and July 2014.
A 13News Now investigation first looked at the number of low-rated bridges in Hampton Roads last summer. At the time, there were 87 bridges rated 'structurally deficient' in the Hampton Roads district of the Virginia Department of Transportation. This year, there are currently 89 bridges with the designation in Hampton Roads.
The designation is given to bridges whose structure has begun to weaken or deteriorate. Each bridge is inspected periodically and given a sufficiency rating from one to 100.
Generally speaking, the lower the grade, the more time and money it takes to keep a bridge safe.
Chris Eggleston, a bridge engineer for VDOT, said there are three parts of a bridge inspectors look at when determining whether or not a bridge is structurally deficient: the deck, superstructure and sub structure.
"We look at those all as a whole and we assess their condition based on how much wear and tear and age that those particular components are showing," Eggleston explained.
The federal and state government take a bridge's sufficiency rating into account when trying to determine which structures need additional maintenance funding. Typically, a structurally deficient bridge will also get more funding, Eggleston explained.
"Every bridge is a little different," he said. "Some bridges need minor fixes, some need more work, basically."
Most of the region's nearly 1,700 bridges are maintained by the cities in which they're in. It's those city-maintained bridges that have the lowest sufficiency ratings: the Turlington Rd. bridge over the Kilby Creek Spillway in Suffolk has a five and the westbound lanes of the Lesner Bridge in Virginia Beach scores just a seven.
But a 13News Now investigation found even some bridges maintained by VDOT get failing grades, too. Often, those VDOT-maintained bridges carry thousands of cars more each day than their city-maintained counterparts.
The bridge on Denbigh Blvd crossing I-64 in Newport news is rated a 38. The on-ramp and eastbound lanes of I-64 crossing Northampton Blvd in Norfolk rates a 54 and 57, respectively.
Even one of the most heavily traveled bridges in Hampton Roads gets a failing grade. The eastbound lanes of the HRBT scores just a 63.9 out of 100.
Each of the bridges mentioned above are also classified as structurally deficient, too.
But Eggleston and others at VDOT insist the structurally deficient bridges are still safe for drivers.
"Structurally deficient does not mean that it's unsafe in any way," Eggleston said. "What it means is that some components of the bridge are showing a little bit more age or wear and tear than, say, a new bridge." Eggleston added he would cross the HRBT without hesitation.
A new highway funding formula passed by the Virginia legislature last year is expected to increase the amount of money allocated to improving Hampton Roads-area roadways over time.
Just last month, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a budget that included replacing 29 bridges in the region. Among the new list of bridges to replace are the Denbigh Blvd. crossing in Newport News and the on-ramp and eastbound lanes of I-64 crossing Northampton Blvd in Norfolk.