Local expert and national reports indicate Arizona bridges are generally safe

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Officials are constructing a new bridge on Ina Road in Marana. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News) Officials are constructing a new bridge on Ina Road in Marana. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

By MITCHELL ATENCIO
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – One local expert on bridge safety said Arizona’s bridges are generally safe even though the federal government has listed hundreds of them in poor or “structurally deficient” condition.

[RELATED: Bridge collapse victim's uncle rages at 'incompetence']

At least six people died after a pedestrian bridge collapsed near Florida International University on Thursday. The bridge collapsed while workers were tightening loose cables, according to tweets from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Efforts on Friday were still underway to clear debris, but officials said there were no more survivors, according to the Washington Post.

Doug Nintzel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, declined an interview. However, he said in an email that the public should “keep in mind that yesterday’s tragic event in Florida was a construction accident involving a pedestrian bridge.”

Ninztel said the department did not want to speculate about the project, but that there are no “ADOT bridges that have been constructed using the method used in Florida.”

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Rubio said the bridge was intended to be a “one-of-a-kind engineering design,” according to USA Today.

Arizona has more than 8,000 bridges, including federal bridges, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. One hundred sixty-seven of those bridges are listed in “poor” condition, while 205 are listed as structurally deficient. Maricopa County has six poor and eight structurally deficient bridges, according to the report.

A spokeswoman for the administration said that neither of those categories means a bridge is unsafe for travel, but that they are being monitored.

[RELATED: 6 dead, several injured after bridge collapsed onto vehicles]

Pingbo Tang, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, said Arizona bridges are generally safe, as the state does not face many natural disasters that could impact them.

Tang said the main issue bridges in Arizona face is scouring, which is the erosion of soil around a bridge’s foundation.

“The special time is going to be in the summer,” Tang said. “In September, it’s heavy raining … in that time, the bridge is going to have some kind of water flow and then possibly create (scouring).”

The American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2015 Infrastructure Report Card gave Arizona bridges a “B” rating, estimating the repair of structurally deficient bridges would cost $220 million.

“Arizona’s bridges are generally in good condition due to the bridge inspection program; however, funding to maintain them and to support the state’s above-average growth rate will be a major issue in the years ahead,” the report states.

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