KIYC: Almost 1 in 10 New Jersey bridges are structurally deficient

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Nearly 600 bridges across New Jersey, almost 1 in 10, are structurally deficient, in urgent need of repair or replacement, and a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds some have been that way for over 25 years. 

While state transportation officials insist New Jersey bridges are safe, some transportation experts worry years of neglecting the state’s infrastructure will lead to an increase in emergency repairs and closures, and could also increase the likelihood of catastrophic bridge failures.

Every day, almost 23,000 people travel over the Perth Amboy Connector Bridge, which carries Route 35 over the Route 440 Connector. The wear and tear is showing. Concrete on the bridge, built in 1970, is badly cracked. Pillars are eroded. Carmen Rosado of Perth Amboy was stunned when Kane In Your Corner showed her a photo. “Oh my goodness, those aren’t little cracks,” she said. “You never know, one of these days, if the earth shakes or something, that could come down.”

RELATED: KIYC: Years of neglect led to state’s failing bridge infrastructure, experts say
MORE: Map of structurally deficient bridges in New Jersey

The Perth Amboy Connector Bridge is the worst bridge in New Jersey, according to 2017 data from the Federal Highway Administration. It’s been rated in “poor” condition in every two-year inspection since 1999. Two of its three structural components, the superstructure and deck, rank even lower, in “serious” condition. And the bridge fares even worse in terms of “sufficiency rating”, a formula the federal government uses to award bridge funding. A sufficiency rating under 80 percent means a bridge is eligible for rehabilitation - under 50 percent and it’s eligible for total replacement. The Perth Amboy Connector Bridge has a sufficiency rating of just 2 percent.

It’s not the only New Jersey bridge that’s been in poor condition for a generation or more. The Landing Lane Bridge in New Brunswick and the Monmouth Street Bridge in Trenton have both been found to be structurally deficient in every inspection since the National Bridge Inventory database began recording data in 1991. The Trenton bridge, at least, is in the state’s plans. The New Jersey Department of Transportation says it will be replaced, but work is not scheduled to begin until 2022.

Despite the inspection results, the New Jersey DOT insists the state’s bridges are safe. “We have more than 200 inspectors out there every day inspecting bridges, and if they find something of concern, we take action,” spokesman Steve Shapiro says.

However, Shapiro also falsely contends the federal government’s sufficiency rating “is only used for whether it is eligible for federal funding and has nothing to do with how safe a bridge may or may not be.” In fact, federal guidelines specify that 55 percent of a sufficiency rating is based on “structural adequacy and safety.” 

Emin Aktan, professor of infrastructure at Drexel University and a nationally recognized transportation expert, is less positive in his assessment of New Jersey’s bridges. “As bridges get older, the probability of any one bridge having undiscovered defects, failing, collapsing, is there,” he says.

State transportation officials say they have issued a bid for replacement of the Perth Amboy Connector Bridge and work should begin next year. The bridge was previously scheduled for a replacement project in 2015, however, which was canceled due to lack of funding.

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