Central Texas Obsolete and Deficient Bridge Checker. Do you ride on it?

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Central Texas is home to more than 4,300 state-inspected bridges, and 780 of them have been classified as functionally obsolete or structurally deficient, according to data from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Bridges inspected by TxDOT range from iconic postcard-worthy spans like the Pennybacker Arch Bridge across Lake Austin (which isn’t deficient) to dry creek culverts that drivers might not even notice. TxDOT assigns a sufficiency rating from 0 to 100—a rating below 50 is poor—for each bridge it inspects. These assessments help guide local decisions about spending on improvements and repairs.

Bridge collapses, such as in Pittsburgh in January, highlight the need to inspect and improve those in poor condition. President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill allocated $27 billion for bridge repairs across the country through the Bridge Formula program.

Austin has no major bridges in poor condition, but the city has identified five major bridges in need of major rehabilitation or replacement, according to a city report released in late February. Of the 452 Austin bridges mentioned in the report, 29% have exceeded their design life of 50 years.

A bridge’s adequacy rating considers several criteria, including deck width, guardrails, approach design, and more. Bridges that don’t “fully conform to today’s more rigorous standards are technically classified as ‘obsolete,'” according to Kyle Carvell, public information officer at the Austin Department of Public Works.

“A fair amount of obsolescence in structures built 40 years or more ago is to be expected and may be acceptable for some time. Alternatively, a bridge with serious structural issues would technically be classified as ‘deficient’,” Carvell wrote in an email.

KXAN used data from TxDOT to map every bridge in Travis and 11 surrounding counties. You can click or tap on a dot to find a bridge’s adequacy rating, age, and whether it has been classified as deficient or obsolete. Points with a lighter color have a lower rating, which means that they are in worse condition than the others.

The bridge report released in February by the Austin Department of Public Works states that none of the 452 major bridges inspected by TxDOT had an adequacy rating below 50 and none were deficient, but this report does not provide a complete picture of local bridges.

KXAN analyzed data from TxDOT, which includes many more bridges in Austin than the 452 described in the public works report. The latest records from TxDOT show there are 10 bridges in Austin with a sufficiency rating below 50, or classified as deficient or both.

Carvell said the city did not include bridges deemed poor and deficient in its report because they “are not the responsibility of Public Works” and “are not among the 452 TXDOTs inspected for us.”

Carvel said most of those poor or deficient bridges are the responsibility of TxDOT, a few are owned by the railroad, and one — the Dean Keaton Pedestrian Bridge — is the University of Texas at Austin.

KXAN also found that some of the sufficiency ratings used by the Department of Public Works in its report are higher than the current ratings available from TxDOT. For example, the city’s rating for the Lamar Boulevard Bridge over Lady Bird Lake is 73, but the current TxDOT rating for the same bridge is 50.7, which is 22 points lower and barely on par. above a bad rating.

Carvell said the city based its reporting data on inspection records provided by TxDOT in 2020, and data available online from TxDOT was updated more recently.

Austin’s bridges are over 100 years old

There are 40 bridges in central Texas that were built over 100 years ago, including 12 in or near Austin. Although these are the oldest spans in the area, none in Austin have a sufficiency rating in the “poor” range — below 50 — according to TxDOT data.

In Lee County, 27% of its 138 bridges are functionally obsolete, which is the highest percentage of the 12 central Texas counties we analyzed, according to data from TxDOT. Travis County has the most bridges in the region with 1,514 monitored by TxDOT, followed by Williamson County with 1,100.

Overall, Texas has over 55,000 bridges, the most of any state. The percentage of bridges in poor condition has declined over the past 20 years, and the state is “well below” the national average for the percentage of bridges in poor condition, according to a 2020 TxDOT report.

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