Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MSNBC probe finds bridge inspections running behind; data on Web site enables local reporting

The collapse of a Minneapolis interstate highway bridge last year brought attention to inspections of bridges large and small around the country, but an MSNBC investigation of records through April 2006 shows that thousands of the spans were overdue for a checkup.

"At least 17,000 bridges in the U.S. went more than two years between safety inspections," writes Bill Dedman (who also took the photo). "These newly released records from the National Bridge Inventory include inspections through 2006. Although Congress in 1971 ordered rigorous standards for inspecting bridges every 24 months, the records reveal a system in which the buck is passed down from federal to state to local governments, without penalty for those that fail to protect the public."

Overall, one in four bridges was classified as deficient or obsolete. There is some good news in the data: 97 percent of the nation's 592,000 vehicular bridges met the federal standard for inspection within two years. Four states had perfect records: Delaware, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee.

The states with the highest percentage of bridges with delayed inspections:
  • Hawaii (46.5 percent)
  • Rhode Island (27.5)
  • Arizona (26.7)
  • New Mexico (17.4)
  • West Virginia (12.2)
  • Illinois (11.5)
  • District of Columbia (11.5)
No records were available for Kentucky or for federal bridges. Dedman's report, located at, includes plenty of tools for journalists to explore the story locally. Those include an interactive map that lets users track their normal driving routes and a state-by-state ranking of bridge inspections. (Read more)

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