May 3, 2024 - Politics

Georgia bridge conditions top U.S. average

Map of U.S. states showing the share of bridges in poor condition in 2023. Overall, 6.8% of bridges are in poor condition. West Virginia and Iowa have the highest share among states, with nearly 20% in poor condition. Arizona has the lowest, with just 1.1%.
Data: Federal Highway Administration; Map: Will Chase and Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Georgia leads nationwide in bridge upkeep as federal data shows 98% of its 15,000-plus bridges maintain decent conditions.

Why it matters: Amid anticipation of Atlanta completing Cheshire Bridge repairs by May 27, and ongoing dread from Baltimore's fatal bridge collapse in April, the nation's bridge safety concerns are high.

By the numbers: The U.S. Department of Transportation says Georgia has the highest percentage of bridges in good condition nationwide (75%). Meanwhile, 23% of its bridges are considered fair, and 2% poor.

How it works: Bridges in poor conditions aren't necessarily at risk of imminent collapse. The National Bridge Inventory has three grades below poor for structures requiring bridge closures.

  • Few bridges receive "serious" or "critical" ratings; bridges that reach those levels are typically fixed or closed.
  • 6.8% of the nation's 600,000-plus bridges have "poor" conditions.

Threat level: 13,740 bridges in Georgia require repairs, according to the latest federal data available from February 2023 in the National Bridge Inventory.

Skyline view of the state capital of Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Bridges near Atlanta's skyline view. Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Catch up quick: Cheshire Bridge's current closure followed a fire that destroyed a section of it in December 2023, the AJC reports.

  • Atlanta has closed Cheshire Bridge twice in three years. In 2021, a fire under a section of the road near Wellbourne Drive — a quarter-mile away from the current repair site — required 20 months of repairs, Atlanta News First reports.
  • And seven years ago, in March 2017, a massive fire collapsed the Interstate 85 bridge in Atlanta. Georgia reopened it six weeks later.

Between the lines: America's bridge infrastructure has steadily improved for the last 20 years.

Friction point: Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law last year to allow supply trucks to haul 88,000 pounds (40,000 kilograms) on state roads, up from the previous weight limit of 80,000 pounds.

  • But Georgia's transportation department told the AJC months later that more than 2,000 of Georgia's bridges are unable to safely accommodate the new maximum weight.
  • The AP reports lawmakers compromised by setting the higher weight limits to expire on July 1, 2025.

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