BOISE • State Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, opened this year’s first Senate Transportation Committee meeting with next session in mind.
There will be no bill to fund improving Idaho’s declining transportation systems this session but the committee will begin preparing now to learn just how broken the road and highway systems have become, said Brackett, committee chairman.
“It’ll be good background material when we get into next year,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.
The committee will spend the next few weeks getting quick snapshot lessons of different parts of Idaho’s transportation infrastructure.
The first presentation focused on bridges by Wayne Hammon, with the Idaho Transportation Committee. Hammon is also the executive director of Idaho Associated General Contractors.
“Bridges don’t necessarily fall down in Idaho,” Hammon said. “But what does happen is that they get older.”
There are almost 400 bridges that need to be replaced in Idaho, Hammon said Thursday. But at the current replacement rate, it would take 100 years to replace every deficient bridge in the state.
Funds are already in place to replace five Magic Valley bridges over the next five years, Nathan Jerke, Idaho Transportation Department spokesman, told the Times-News. Seven more are on track to be resurfaced or repaired. The projects cost an estimated $57 million in total, Jerke said.
As bridges get older, they can support fewer load amounts, he said. This means semi trailers, similar to the ones carrying milk or sugar beets common in the Magic Valley,
Out of south-central Idaho’s 29 major crossing bridges, five are ranked as “functionally obsolete” or no longer adequate for its designed purpose, according to ITD. These bridges may be safe but they can be the source of traffic jams or not have enough clearance for oversized vehicles.
For example, the bridge at the junction of Interstate 84 and Interstate 86 — which has on average 3,2000 vehicles cross it daily — is considered functionally obsolete.
Three of the 29 bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” This means that defects have been reported but it does not necessarily mean the bridge is unsafe.
“Without safe bridges, you can hurt your communities,” Hammon said. “In some cases, trucks are forced to go miles out of their way because a bridge can no longer handle the load or, they’re forced to break the law.”