I-Team: Audit says bridge inspections fail to fully comply with federal guidelines

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A lack of money means more bad bridges Louisianians drive over just about every day according to an audit released Monday by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera.

The audit highlighted several points the I-team addressed last November. The I-team told you that nearly a billion dollars had been pumped into the state's deficient bridges since 2008, but the audit says that's not enough to clear the state's $2.7 billion backlog.

Reports show in 2009, there were 1,712 deficient bridges in the state. Last year however, the number rose to 1,806.

Auditors said a lack of proper state funding is the reason the number of bad bridges is increasing making Louisiana 13th in the country for the most deficient bridges.

"We do have needs with our infrastructure in the state and we're using our dollars efficiently and effectively," said Department of Transportation & Development's Secretary Sherri Lebas.

Tens of thousands of drivers cross structurally deficient bridges in Louisiana every day. It's important to note, structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe. Lebas said deficient means something on the bridge requires attention. There are three parts to a bridge. Each part is rated on a scale of one to 10. If any of the three areas rank four or less, it's deemed structurally deficient. For example, corrosion on a metal support beam or with all the timber bridges in Louisiana, a wooden piece that's rotten.

"Our inspectors, our engineers are trained to go look at these bridges and determine if they're safe for travel. If they're not safe for travel, we close the bridge," said Lebas.

Lebas said bridges are inspected every two years, some more often if they require. Purpera said otherwise noting the state needs to inspect bridges more often and improve how they examine those bridges.

The state does have an approved plan to reach full compliance. "We've increased our staffing by about 25 percent statewide throughout the districts to aid in the inspection of our bridges," said Lebas.

Because the audit said DOTD needs more money from the state to reduce their $2.7 billion backlog, we reached out to the governor's office and Transportation and Highway committee at the legislature. Those calls were not returned.

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