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Published September 15, 2013, 01:36 PM

ND officials say state's bridges are in good shape

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota officials say most bridges in the state are in good shape and getting better, with most of those that could be at risk of failure carrying no more than a few dozen vehicles a day.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota officials say most bridges in the state are in good shape and getting better, with most of those that could be at risk of failure carrying no more than a few dozen vehicles a day.

An Associated Press review of data submitted by states to the federal National Bridge Inventory found 7,795 bridges nationwide that are both structurally deficient bridges and fracture critical, a combination of red flags that experts say is particularly problematic.

There are 150 such spans among the 4,500 bridges in North Dakota. Those deemed fracture critical could collapse if a single vital component fails, while those rated structurally deficient have had their condition rated as poor or worse by inspectors.

Alan Dybing, an associate research fellow for the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, an independent think tank at North Dakota State University, said several of the bridges on the state's fracture critical list have likely been fixed or taken out of commission.

The remaining fracture critical and structurally deficient bridges are all on rural roads or county highways where the daily traffic is 50 or fewer vehicles, he said.

"I would say in general North Dakota is in pretty good shape, especially when compared to the rest of the nation," Dybing said. "Just infrastructure in general, in North Dakota, the counties have been very proactive in staying ahead."

Most of those bridges in question are in the eastern part of the state.

About 35 of the North Dakota bridges at risk are in Cass County, the state's most populous. Frank Podoll, the county's design and construction engineer, said there's been funding in the last decade to repair about three bridges a year. A current five-year plan calls for the county to improve 10 bridges a year, he said.

"Our funding is the best it has been," said Podoll, who has worked for the county for 28 years. "We're working on eliminating all the load-restricted bridges in our county system, and we only have two or three left."

Cass is among the counties that are beginning to benefit from state spending sparked by infrastructure needs in the oil patch. The Legislature this spring dedicated more than $800 million to rebuilding roads and bridges, including $120 million given to non-oil producing counties.

Terry Udland, a bridge engineer at the state Department of Transportation, said bridges in North Dakota are inspected every other year. Inspectors assign a rating between 0 and 9 for the superstructure, substructure and deck of each bridge. If any of those areas gets a rating of 4 or below, the state generally schedules repairs, he said.

"If there's ever a point where safety is an issue, we close it immediately or we fix it immediately," he said. "If it wasn't safe, it wouldn't be open."

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