America has a problem with an aging infrastructure that doesn’t seem to be improving, and bridges seem to be in special disrepair. Despite this nationwide problem Howard County seems to be doing better than most.

Transportation for America has been focusing on this infrastructure problem for years to highlight the need to improve America’s infrastructure.

“Our nation’s roads, highways and bridges have increasingly received failing scores on maintenance and upkeep,” TFA wrote in a report on Indiana’s bridges. “The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated our country’s overall infrastructure a “D” and our bridges a “C.”

For roads and highways, this manifests itself in rutted roadways, cracked pavement and abundant potholes, creating significant costs for drivers and businesses due to increased wear and tear on their vehicles. For the nation’s bridges, lack of maintenance can result in the sudden closure of a critical transportation link or, far worse, a collapse that results in lost lives and a significant loss in regional economic productivity.”

Indiana is in the middle of the pack in terms of the condition of its bridges, ranking 26. Howard County is in the top third of the state.

In total, 7.7 percent of Howard County’s bridges are ranked as structurally deficient. Bridges that are structurally deficient aren’t required to be shut down, nor does it mean they are in poor condition. It just means that they don’t adhere to bridge structural recommendations.

“Our bridges are in pretty decent shape,” said Ted Cain, Howard County engineer. “That is why I try to work on a few of them a year doing some minor work so we don’t have to do anything. If you can do some preventive maintenance that helps as far as the lifetime of the bridge, such as we are putting decks on some of them that was just box beams.

“Eventually those box beams with salt and stuff start getting some corrosion. We have been trying to keep up on those and actually try and put decks on top of them. Some of our bridges have asphalt on top of them and that traps moisture in and that allows deterioration of the concrete and once the concrete deteriorates it gets down into your reinforcing bars.

“We have also tried to replace some of the decks that have asphalt on them and put a concrete deck on top of it. Little things like that help so we don’t have to go in and spend a lot of money on totally replacing them.”

Cain said that Howard County does have some bridges that need to be replaced, but they try to address the problems with bridges before they get out of control.

Cain broke down the cost difference of fixing a bridge early and waiting until it has to be completely replaced.

“We get around $800,000 to spend on bridges,” said Cain. “The maintenance work, if you can do it, is $50,000 to $60,000 a bridge, minimum. If you are going to be replacing decks, it is in the $150,000 to $200,000 area. If you are going to replace the whole thing it could be a lot more than that.”

Cain feels the classification as structurally deficient can be misleading, because it doesn’t mean a bridge isn’t safe.

“You got bridges out there that might be 18 to 20 foot wide, and they will say it is deficient because of the geometry, so they want them to be 30 feet wide,” said Cain. “The road out there is only 16 to 18 foot wide, so that bridge might be in decent shape but it is deficient in that area.

“Some of it has to do with the guardrails. Of course guardrail standards change so often. The bridges that they are building out on U.S. 31 probably before they get them built, if they grade them, there is probably going to be something that they could find wrong with them.”

Cain said he is diligent about checking Howard County’s bridges.

“I check the bridges every year,” said Cain. “I run them, and I look over them. I don’t do a real in-depth study. I just see if we can tell if there is any further deterioration.

“Also we have a consultant every two years do a pretty thorough investigation of all the bridges. That will give me some things that might need some attention on a bridge. We will look at it, and some of them we do and some aren’t a major issue. They will look and see if a guardrail is bent a little bit. They will put that on a report. It will not hurt if a guardrail is dinged a little bit. You know there are things you need to do quick and things that can wait until you have a project on it.”

Cain said it has been difficult to fix all the bridges he wants with the demand on the contractor Howard County uses to fix their bridges.

“I have some of the bridges I want to work on,” said Cain. “I have a schedule that has kind of gone haywire since this 31 project came through because one of the contractors we use to work on our bridges is working on that project.

“We wanted to get another bridge done this summer, but we are just waiting for him to come in. That is a bridge that we are pretty much going to take the asphalt off of and put a new deck on. He also does work for other counties, and I know right now besides the bypass work he is tied up with another county’s work.”