Saturday, June 22

How Safe Are Bridges in Randolph County?

US Hwy 64/49 bridge over US I-73/74 in Asheboro, NC [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]
US Hwy 64/49 bridge over US I-73/74 in Asheboro, NC [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

ASHEBORO N.C. – We drive over them every day without a second thought, but last year one reader contacted us to ask just how safe are bridges in Randolph County?

Randolph County is the 11th largest county in North Carolina, containing interstates, country roads, forests, lakes, rivers, and creeks. Zigzagging across the county’s 790 square miles are 266 bridges, all maintained by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT). 

NC DOT is responsible for inspecting and taking care of about 18,000 bridge structures state-wide, including 13,500 bridges and 4,500 culverts and pipes that are twenty feet or longer, which means they fit the federal definition of a bridge.

About 9,000 structures are inspected each year by certified bridge inspectors.

In August of last year Randolph News Now requested public bridge inspection records from NC DOT for fifty randomly selected bridges. We avoided both the oldest and newest bridges in the county and selected a mix of major interstates over lakes to tiny one lane bridges on country roads. 

Of the fifty inspection records we analyzed, on average the bridges in our county were rated as “Satisfactory,” meaning that the structural elements show “some minor deterioration” according to federal standards. 

About 16% of the bridges were classified as functionally obsolete, which while an outdated standard is defined as when a bridge no longer meets the demands of the traffic using it. These bridges are safe but need to be improved or replaced due to narrow lanes, low height clearances or have posted weight limits.

The bridge on West Presnell St in Asheboro that goes over train tracks is one of several bridges identified as “functionally obsolete” by inspectors. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

Some of the bridges rated as functionally obsolete included:

  • I-73/74 over US Bus 220
  • Pisgah Covered Bridge Rd over I-73/74
  • Albemarle Rd over US Hwy 64/49
  • Dover Church Rd over the Little Uwharrie River
  • West Presnell St over the train tracks
  • Three Bridges on Old Liberty Rd over the Bush Creek

Of the fifty-bridge inspection records we reviewed all of them were rated as either satisfactory or fair condition. 

One level below fair condition is poor condition and as of March 2021, about 1,100, or 8.2%, of the state’s bridges were considered in poor condition. 

“Poor condition bridges are safe; however, they have components that are deteriorating,” says the Dept of Transportation on its website. “They require significant maintenance to remain in service and might require limits on vehicle weights. To fully address the issues on a poor condition bridge, extensive rehabilitation or replacement is usually required.”

For NCDOT to replace all poor condition bridges, it would cost more than $3.8 billion.

Next to a large crack in the concrete on the side of a bridge on Old Liberty Rd between Asheboro and Greys Chapel sits an engraved plaque that notes the bridge was built by the State of NC in 1920. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

The average bridge in Randolph County was built in 1967 meaning it is around 55 years old. As we have seen with the on-going water problems in the county, aging infrastructure, if not well maintained, can lead to problems in the future. 

From our data analysis we are confident that the bridges in Randolph County are safe today, but they will only continue to be safe so long as adequate funding is available for inspections, repairs, upgrades, and replacements.