Suburban bridges with defects need cash, report says

Suburban motorists will be driving on continually deteriorating highway bridges unless Congress puts more money toward repairing them, transportation advocates said Tuesday.

A report by Transportation for America cited 2,239 highway bridges in Illinois, including hundreds in the suburbs, requiring repairs. Cook County led Chicago-area counties with 162 out of 1,641 bridges in need of a fix, followed by Will County with 56 out of 597 bridges classified as structurally deficient and McHenry County with 32 out of 218, the study found.

“It doesn't mean these bridges will fall over tomorrow, but it's a warning sign,” Transportation for America communications director David Goldberg said. “If you ignore it, it's like ignoring the oil change light in your car. If you continue to ignore it, you'll have a catastrophic failure.”

The report found that 8.5 percent of Illinois bridges are structurally deficient. That means Congress needs to act on a new surface transportation bill, which funds highways, bridges and mass transit this year, transportation advocates said Monday.

“Our message is we don't want to wait until these bridges are unsafe,” said Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “We need Congress to make this a priority.”

Suburban Cook County U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said a bill budgeted at between $230 billion and $260 billion is under consideration, but that's insufficient.

“It's far below what is needed to be spent. This Congress has ruled out an increase in revenue so we're looking at a pretty small bill,” Lipinski said.

Transportation for America flagged major structures in need of attention such as the I-90 bridge at Oakton Street near Des Plaines, which has an average daily traffic count of 64,500.

Other suburban counties with highway bridge dysfunction are Kane County with 30 out of 276 structures considered structurally deficient, Lake County with 27 out of 235 and DuPage County with 22 out of 285.

DuPage County has only two bridges it is responsible for considered deficient, Director of Transportation and Operations John Kos noted. “We are keeping up with deficient structures,” he said.

But lack of a new federal transportation funding plan is taking a toll. “When we want to do something larger, like capacity or safety improvements, that takes a hefty chunk of funding. We just don't have it,” Kos said.

The state's bridges are in good shape compared to other states', Illinois Department of Transportation officials said. “There are no unsafe or dangerous state bridges open to the public,” IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. “We follow a rigorous inspection schedule and share those results with the public through our website.”

But he acknowledged that “bridges are some of our most expensive projects. We work with the available resources that we have.”

Transportation for America is a coalition of business, environmental, transportation and government groups based in Washington, D.C. The organization used data from the Federal Bridge Inventory in compiling its study.

1 in 13 local bridges 'structurally deficient'

Municipalities lag behind in bridge repairs

  The bridge at the intersection of I-90 and Oakton Avenue is need of repairs as concrete chips away from one of the columns. ItÂ’s just one of nearly 2,400 structurally deficient bridges in the state. Mark Welsh/
  The I-290 bridge over Route 83 in Elmhurst was repaired recently, but a report by Transportation for America says nearly 2,400 bridges in Illinois are structurally deficient. Bev Horne/