The state of Tennessee is one of only a handful of states in the nation that inspect every single bridge every 24-months. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has 17 dedicated bridge inspection teams. It's one of the few areas of state government that hasn't been cut in during this era of shrinking state budgets. Tennessee's bridge inspection program is considered a model for the nation according to the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Every year the state spends more than 1-hundred million state and federal dollars on bridge maintenance and construction. We allocate twice as much money for bridge safety than the federal government requires. But Tennessee wasn't always so vigilant. In 1989, eight people were killed when the highway 51 bridge over the Hatchie River in Tipton County collapsed. Since then Tennessee has become a national leader. TDOT's chief bridge engineer Paul Deggs tells Fox 17 News the department targets 35 to 40 major bridge projects a year. Right now major projects under construction include the highway 109 bridge over the Cumberland River near Gallatin and the highway 56 bridge over the Caney Fork River North of Smithville. While we have hundreds of bridges inspectors have deemed both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, TDOT officials insist our bridges are safe. The state regularly posts weight restrictions to ensure safe passage over aging bridges but only a half dozen bridges a year are closed here because of safety concerns. One of the few closed in middle Tennessee include the old Cumberland River Bridge near downtown Carthage. It was closed two years ago after inspectors gave it a sufficiency rating of three. One of the few areas of concern uncovered by our investigation is the number of bridges with posted weight limits and a lack of formal enforcement to ensure those weight limits are being observed. The Tennessee Department of Safety tells Fox 17 News only 19 citations were issued in 2011 for weight restriction violations on Tennessee bridges.
Scott Couch, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, May 10 2012, 11:18 PM CDT
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