Infrastructure Report State of Disrepair
Our state’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We’re not maintaining our roads; we’re not expanding our systems to meet the state’s growing population; and we’re not thinking creatively to engineer solutions. If we don’t repair things soon, our highways and bridges will be in jeopardy—along with our treasured Colorado lifestyle.
Spanning the Gap
CDOT’s inspectors chip away at our bridge crisis.
CDOT bridge engineer Tom Tatalaski hovers 14 feet off the ground in a cherry picker basket. After a few adjustments to his steering mechanism, the 37-year-old inspector leans out of the white basket, eyeballs the concrete surface in front of him, and pulls out his tool of choice: a hammer.
I’ve ventured 25 miles east of Denver to meet Tatalaski and Mark Stadig at Bridge F-18-AP, a 100-foot-long nothing of a structure that allows I-70 to pass over a frontage road. Traveling at 65 miles per hour over F-18-AP, you’d never even know you’d driven over a bridge.
Colorado has 3,447 bridges on its highways. Of those, nearly 2,000 were built before 1975. Most bridges’ life expectancies hover around 40 years. Old age, changing traffic patterns, weather, deicer, and heavier vehicles contribute to the deterioration of any bridge, but some overpasses simply wear out more quickly than others. In 2009-2010, CDOT reported there were 128 “poor” bridges in Colorado. Those spans needed immediate funding to address safety issues. Enter FASTER, a 2009 transportation bill that increased vehicle registration fees to create money for highway projects, transportation improvements, and bridges. It was the first new stream of revenue for transportation in 20 years. The money is now flowing in; however, it isn’t enough, especially since FASTER revenues have not met initial projections.
Take the I-70 viaduct in north Denver (near the Purina plant), which is the largest bridge in Colorado, and on the list of the 128 poor bridges in the state. It cost $12.5 million to build in 1964 and carried 31,000 vehicles daily. In ’09, it served 137,000 vehicles a day. Though the viaduct has been “rehabilitated” recently to address safety issues like expansion joints, drainage, and road surfacing, reconstruction will be necessary in the next decade. That project alone is projected to cost $1 billion.
Today, though, the inspectors are concerned with F-18-AP. Built in 1960, this bridge is listed as functionally obsolete. Its under-clearance is just 14 feet and 2 inches—not high enough for many contemporary vehicles. “We get tall trucks hitting low bridges like this,” Stadig says. Tatalaski is more concerned with areas of concrete along the horizontal support that are “delaminating,” which means the concrete is separating from the internal rebar. The engineer takes his hammer and pounds on the concrete—it sloughs off in football-size chunks. “This bridge is actually doing OK after 51 years,” he says, “but the substructure is very close to being rated low enough to deem the bridge structurally deficient.” He smiles and sighs as if to say, “Add it to the list.” —LBK
The Minnesota Collapse
Could it happen in Colorado?
In 2007, Minnesotans were stunned when part of a Minneapolis highway bridge plunged into the Mississippi River, taking vehicles, metal, and concrete along with it. Thirteen people died, and 145 people were injured after the structure’s main support failed. Laypeople may have been shocked, but transportation experts across the country were less surprised; they decried a nationwide lack of funding for inspecting and maintaining America’s roads and bridges. Here in Colorado, then-state Senator Dan Gibbs, who co-sponsored the FASTER bill in 2009, shook his head and crossed his fingers. With 128 “poor” bridges in Colorado, Gibbs made sure FASTER would begin addressing those structures—but he knew that Colorado would be fortunate to avoid tragedy. “If we don’t start fixing our bridges, we’re going to make national news with a collapse,” Gibbs says today. “And people are going to say ‘What’s going on in Colorado?’ ” So, how does our state compare with Minnesota? See for yourself.
STATE OF THE STATES
Colorado / Minnesota
Population (2010): 5,029,196 / 5,303,925
Population density rank: 39 / 33
State fuel tax rate: 22 cents/gallon / 27.2 cents/gallon
Percent of major roads in poor/mediocre condition in ’08 :32% / 32%
Percent of bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete: 18% / 13%