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Officials: Utah bridges safe, but upkeep expensive

Of the 1,800 bridges owned by the state, 322, or about 18 percent, are 50 years old, according to an analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune published Monday.

The Associated Press

10/14/2013

SALT LAKE CITY — Bridges in Utah are ranked among the best in the nation when it comes to structural integrity, but transportation officials say more money is needed to stay ahead of maintenance as the structures age.

Of the 1,800 bridges owned by the state, 322, or about 18 percent, are 50 years old, according to an analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune published Monday (http://bit.ly/1gEekXc ). By the end of the decade, that number is expected to jump to 576 bridges, or 32 percent.

State transportation officials have told legislators that Utah has been replacing about 15 bridges annually. But they say the state will be looking at replacing about 50 bridges a year as the infrastructure continues to age, costing an extra $9 million a year.

To pay for the upkeep, officials are looking at raising the gasoline tax or other transportation taxes.

Josh Sletten, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation, says the lifespan of a bridge is much like that of a vehicle. Cars with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer may run just fine, but eventually problems arise and repairs are needed.

"We've always had this rule of thumb that a bridge at 50 years old is like a car at 100,000 miles. You still have to evaluate it bridge by bridge, but you can start anticipating that treatments are needed," Sletten told the newspaper.

Most bridges in Utah were built in the 1950s and '60s, when freeways were first constructed. By 2030, the number of bridges topping 50 years old will rise to 920 — roughly 51 percent.

UDOT data show that only 23 state-owned bridges, or 1.3 percent, are considered "structurally deficient" or need work but are safe enough to remain open. That's a fraction of the 11 percent national average.

"If you go back to 1998, we were at about 10 percent deficient," Sletten said. He said Utah gained ground because problem bridges were replaced or repaired as part of projects to add capacity to Interstate 15 in Salt Lake County before the 2002 Winter Olympics and to improve I-80 over the last decade.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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