The horrific collapse of a bridge near Genoa, Italy, killing at least 22 people, is shining a spotlight on the safety of bridge infrastructure worldwide.
While there are no Illinois bridges in danger of collapse, the state did rank fifth in the nation in terms of the number of "structurally deficient" bridges in 2017, at 2,303 bridges or 8.6 percent of the total, up from 2,243 in 2016, according to a study early this year by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a Washington-based trade group that used Federal Highway Administration figures.
The term "structurally deficient" does not mean a bridge is about to fall down, but that it is in need of repair or rebuilding, according to the association. If a bridge is allowed to deteriorate for too long, a government may choose to close it or limit how much it can carry.
Illinois problem bridges include the 1930s-era Lake Shore Drive span over the main branch of the Chicago River. The Chicago Department of Transportation is planning repairs to this bridge together with the Navy Pier Flyover bike path construction project later this year, said spokesman Michael Claffey. CDOT also plans to start work on replacing the deteriorated Chicago Avenue bridge over the Chicago River next month.
Currently underway is the rebuilding of the Oakwood Boulevard/39th Street Bridge over Metra tracks in Bronzeville, and repairs to the Columbus Avenue bridge over the Chicago River, Claffey said. He said the city's "rigorous bridge inspection" program exceeds federal standards.
Other heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the Chicago area include I-290 over Salt Creek in Addison; I-55 over Lemont and Joliet roads in Will County; and I-53 over Kirchoff Road in Rolling Meadows. Replacement of the I-290 bridge began last month, while work on the I-55 bridge over Joliet is tentatively planned for 2019 and on I-53 in 2021, according to IDOT.
For I-55 over Lemont, design of the replacement bridge has started and a replacement contract is expected to go to bid in the near future, tentatively next year, said IDOT spokeswoman Jessie Decker.
Another structurally deficient bridge is the south end of the Dan Ryan Elevated, a part of the Dan Ryan Expressway that takes traffic into and out of the express lanes from the south from 29th Place up to about Stewart Avenue in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, Decker said. She said a recent inspection identified several areas in need of repair and the agency is in the process of figuring out what to do next.
"IDOT inspects bridges on a routine basis to ensure the safety of the motoring public," said Decker in an email. She said that when a bridge is in poor condition, it is monitored more frequently.
IDOT has regularly stated the need for long-term funding to prevent future problems. The state has been without a capital plan since 2009, and President Donald Trump's much-discussed proposal for a national comprehensive infrastructure program does not appear to be going anywhere before the mid-term elections.
"The president's infrastructure plan pretty much died as soon as it was released in February," said Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, the senior Illinois member on the U.S. House Transportation Committee. Lipinski said the plan shifts much of the responsibility for infrastructure to states, local governments and the private sector, and it lacked support from both Democrats and most Republicans.
Lipinski said that if Democrats gain the majority in the House, they could pass an infrastructure bill early next year, and he thinks Trump could support it. If Republicans keep their majority, Lipinski said it was also possible they could pass a bill proposed by Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster.
Nationally, 54,259 or 8.9 percent of the nation's 612,677 bridges are structurally deficient and have an average age of 67 years, compared with 40 years for non-deficient bridges, according to the ARTBA report.
Lipinski said there was "always a possibility" the U.S. could see a catastrophic bridge collapse, like the kind that killed 13 people in Minneapolis in 2007. "I would hope that the bridge inspectors do their job and anything that needs immediate repair gets taken care of," Lipinski said.