Towns lag in bridge repairs

Daily Herald On Guard

Municipalities lag far behind state and federal transit agencies when it comes to fixing structurally deficient bridges.

About one in seven bridges maintained by local towns in the six-county Chicago and suburban region is listed as deficient by the Federal Highway Administration.

That compares to a ratio of about one in 13 bridges overall that are labeled deficient in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

Among them are Rolling Meadows with five deficient bridges that are maintained by the city, and Aurora with four. Waukegan has three deficient locally maintained bridges, while Elgin and Lisle each have two. In total, 69 structurally deficient bridges are the responsibility of suburban towns, according to maintenance data from federal and state transportation agencies.

Money often is a major reason why towns put off bridge repairs, but politics and paperwork each play a role.

“A lot of it is affected by the funding that's available,” said Fred Vogt, director of public works in Rolling Meadows, which maintains 10 bridges.

Municipalities are eligible for financial assistance through a federal program that covers 80 percent of the cost of bridge maintenance, but it takes time for the funding to come through and towns still have to cover the remainder, Vogt said. Federal Highway Administration spokeswoman Nancy Singer said the federal agency distributes about $4.5 billion annually.

But the program has recently found itself under scrutiny, with a recent U.S. General Accounting Office report questioning funding practices as well as guidelines that allow funding for bridges not rated deficient.

West Chicago has been sitting on its 20 percent share of a $2.1 million culvert bridge replacement for more than a year, waiting for federal matching funds to be approved. The structure, listed by the state as being in “serious condition,” is scheduled to be replaced in 2011.

Ken Schroth, Aurora's director of public works, said municipal bridge replacement or significant repairs often take four or five years to complete.

Federal and state officials have to OK engineering and design plans, and other affected agencies get their say.

A recent bridge replacement on Wood Street in Aurora required approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, as well, Schroth said.

Both Aurora and Rolling Meadows are bisected by waterways, leaving them with a relatively large inventory of bridges. Vogt said Rolling Meadows also inherited two deficient bridges from the state in the last decade. Those bridges carry the Frontage Road adjacent to Route 53 over Salt Creek.

“Just for routine bridge maintenance, we typically budget about $30,000 to $50,000 and that covers inspection costs,” Vogt said.

Since 1995, Naperville has rebuilt six of its bridges using federal funds. City engineer Bill Novack said the life expectancy of the new bridges is roughly 50 years. All of the 12 bridges Naperville is responsible for maintaining are now up to snuff, but a bridge built in 1961 that carries 87th Street over a small creek is in line for repairs in a couple years.

“We've waited because the timing wasn't right, because another bridge somewhere was out or we've waited for approval to do the work,” Novack said.

1 in 13 local bridges 'structurally deficient'

  Rolling MeadowsÂ’ Central Road bridge over Salt Creek is one of 69 municipally maintained bridges in the suburbs where inspectors found deficiencies. Mark Welsh/