Proposed federal cuts could leave Valley bridges vulnerable

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Engineers inspect every bridge in America at least once a year. Each one is assigned a rating and dozens of bridges in the Mahoning Valley are getting close to poor condition. But the money to fix them could be running out.

Eleven years ago, the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed and killed 13 people. It turns out, inspectors knew the bridge was damaged but didn’t realize how close it was to collapse.

Since that disaster, inspectors examine every bridge in the country at least once a year. Bridges with too much damage, like cracks and rust, are repaired or replaced.

Proposed changes at the federal level might make it harder to get dangerous bridges replaced. That could be a stumbling block for one of the most dangerous bridges in our area, situated in Bristol Township.The Bristol 8 Bridge

Engineers call it the Bristol 8 Bridge. It crosses Deacon Creek and has serious issues.

The roadbed is crumbling, steel beams are falling to pieces and inspectors rate it the worst bridge in all of Trumbull County.

“I thought there was just some more work being done. I did not realize it was in that bad of shape,” Marta Elliott said.

Elliott owns Pine Hollow Kennel, just north of the bridge. She’s watched the county reduce the weight limits lower and lower.

Finally, they put up orange barrels to keep people away from the edges and turned it into a one-lane bridge on a two-lane road.

“We can’t have a dangerous bridge and someday have someone go through it,” Elliott said.

With all of those problems put together, the county says the Bristol 8 Bridge needs to be replaced right now. Not a year from now, not five years from now — right now.

The bridge has a condition rating of 2, which is one of the lowest possible.

“Even with the reduced load, you can’t get school buses across, our plows can’t cross it. It’s become an issue,” said Trumbull County Deputy Engineer Gary Shaffer.

So this year, Shaffer said Trumbull County will replace the beams and decking of the bridge, along with the side rails. It will cost $100,000.

In previous years, the county could use that money to offset local costs on larger projects with federal funding. Under the current system, the U.S. government pays back 80 or 90 percent for some bridge and road projects — but that could soon change.

Video: Bridge replacement costsMore Costs for Local Taxpayers

“We are probably averaging $750,000 a bridge for replacement, plus engineering. That’s just for one bridge,” Shaffer said.

The Trump Administration wants to take the federal share down to 10 or 20 percent and leave the rest up to the counties and states. If the plan goes through, county engineers all across the country will be hard-pressed to keep up with aging bridges and roads.

“We have to take a hard look at our entire inventory of our infrastructure and see how we manage from here,” said Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti.

Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson said large projects may never get started, saying it’s difficult even with the 80/20 split.

“Obviously, anything less than that is going to make it very difficult to do improvement projects,” he said.

Elliott is worried that will lead to more costs for taxpayers.

“I think in the future, you’re going to see your license plate fees going up,” she said.

The bridge in Bristol Township is just one across the tri-county area in desperate need of work.MORE: Most damaged bridges in the Valley

The worst bridge in Mahoning County is on Hopkins Road. It will be replaced this year.

In Columbiana, the worst bridge is Elizabeth Street in East Liverpool over the railway tracks.

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