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AAA: 38 Polk bridges substandard

The bridge on Hwy. 9 spans&bsp; a creek not far from Polk Central School. Although it&squo;s not particularly old (built in 1967), AAA gives it a rating of just 9.1 on a 100-point scale, making it easily the lowest rated bridge in Polk County.

According to AAA, 38 of Polk&squo;s 102 bridges are substandard, meaning they are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Structurally deficient is defined as being in relatively poor physical condition and/or inadequate to handle traffic demands. AAA emphasizes that none of the structurally deficient bridges in North Carolina pose immediate safety hazards for motorists. Functionally obsolete bridges are defined as having inadequate design for current traffic volume.

The Hwy. 9 bridge rated worst in Polk County by AAA is considered structurally deficient, but is not among Polk bridges currently slated for replacement. The state&squo;s most recent Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) shows five Polk bridges scheduled for repair or replacement.

The bridges include two on Pearsons Falls Road,&bsp; built in the 1960s. One of those is considered structurally deficient, the other is functionally obsolete. Both handle just 310 vehicles per day.

The other bridges on the TIP are one on Scriven Road, one on Landrum Road over Hooper Creek and one on Morgan Chapel Road over the Pacolet River.

The one-lane Morgan Chapel bridge, built in 1920, is the oldest bridge in the county and is considered structurally deficient. The bridge&bsp; has a rating of 29.1, the second worst in the county.&bsp;

Polk County has five bridges built in the 1920s. The second oldest is a bridge on Hwy. 108 over Skyuka Creek that was built in 1922. That bridge handles 9,300 vehicles per day and has a sufficiency rating of 68.5.

Of the 38 substandard bridges in the county, 11 of them have a sufficiency rating under 50, which qualifies them for federal aid replacement funds. All of the Polk bridges with a rating under 50 handle fewer than 1,000 vehicles per day, except the one on Hwy. 9 near Polk Central.

The level of traffic across the Hwy. 9 bridge likely contributed to its low rating. AAA Carolinas assigns extra weight to traffic volume to highlight the bridges that affect the most motorists.

Statewide, 5,602 or about 31 percent of North Carolina bridges were rated as substandard. Jones County fared best in the AAA report with just 10.5 percent of its bridges rated as substandard, while Burke County was on the other end of the scale with 43.8 percent substandard.

AAA says North Carolina ranks high in the number of substandard bridges, noting that Tennessee is at 19 percent, Georgia at 20 percent and South Carolina and Virginia are both at 23 percent. AAA urges North Carolina to allocate sufficient funds for bridge maintenance.

&dquo;It is less expensive to keep bridges in good repair than to replace them,&dquo; said David E. Parson, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. &dquo;While we know the legislature is under financial strain, postponing maintenance and repairs is only building an increasingly worse situation for the state&squo;s transportation infrastructure. The future financial pain may be severe.&dquo;

NCDOT spent $67 million on bridge and structure maintenance and replaced 99 bridges last year at a cost of $200 million. This year the state estimated that $350 million would be needed to meet maintenance and repair needs and $2.5 billion would be needed to replace all substandard bridges.

AAA Carolinas report is based on state inspections of bridges completed biannually to determine their condition.

&dquo;We have a strong bridge inspection and maintenance program,&dquo; says N.C. Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett, &dquo;and we are continuing to bolster our

efforts and further ensure the integrity of North Carolina&squo;s infrastructure both now and in the future.&dquo;&bsp;

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