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Connecticut needs billions to fix deficient bridges

NEW HAVEN — Hundreds of bridges in Connecticut are structurally deficient, according to records, and state officials are exploring the possibility of implementing tolls for the first time in decades to help come up with the billions of dollars needed to repair or replace its aging spans.

The state has more than 500 bridges considered structurally deficient, meaning they need rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component has advanced deterioration or other problems that led inspectors to deem its condition poor or worse. More than 200 bridges in Connecticut are “fracture critical” because they don’t have redundant protections and are at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails.

Connecticut has 49 bridges that are both structurally deficient and fracture critical, records show.

The Associated Press analyzed data involving 607,380 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory that are subject to National Bridge Inspection Standards. On a national basis, there are 65,605 structurally deficient bridges and 20,808 fracture critical bridges, according to the most recently available federal government data.

Some 7,795 bridges nationwide fall into both categories — a combination of red flags that experts say is particularly problematic.

“Those would be ones you’d worry about more,” said Ted Zoli, chief bridge engineer for HNTB Corp. in New York, whose projects include the Lake Champlain Bridge between New York and Vermont. “Fractured criticality and structural deficiency together represents a combination that results in a higher risk bridge.”

But a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation said the bridges are safe and would not be kept open if they posed a safety risk. Those bridges get extra attention in inspections, and the state conducts more frequent inspections of bridges deemed to need it, he said.

“I would say that a person in the state of Connecticut has a better chance of winning the lotto, being struck by lightning and being attacked by a shark all on the same day, as opposed to being on a bridge under the Connecticut DOT’s jurisdiction that would put our constituency at risk,” said Kevin Nursick, the DOT spokesman.

The 49 bridges that are structurally deficient and fracture critical have a combined average daily traffic of 1.8 million, records show. The four busiest ones carry traffic on Interstate 95 in heavily congested Fairfield County.

Ten of the 49 bridges are in Hartford, seven in Waterbury and four in New Haven.

Many of the bridges were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and some are decades older.

Connecticut, like other New England states, has many older bridges with an average age of 52 years, Nursick said.

The state has about 20 major bridge projects underway, spending more than $500 million on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven alone, Nursick said.

A bridge in Hartford will have to be replaced at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion, and many others will need work, he said.

“It is unquestionably a multibillion-dollar investment for years to come,” Nursick said.

“We’re going to need to see increased federal funding in the years to come.”

Studies are looking into whether electronic tolls should be implemented, Nursick said.

Mike Brodeur, a 47-year-old construction company supervisor from Lisbon, interviewed at an Interstate 95 rest stop in Milford, said that while driving under the Pearl Harbor bridge this week, he was surprised at the level of deterioration in the old bridge, which is being replaced.

“They do need to upgrade them,” Brodeur said. “It’s good to see the state is putting the time and money into the bridges.”

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