The bridges of Sacramento County

Most hang tough, but some are ‘deficient’ and need help

A July report by the Federal Highway Administration determined that one in four bridges in the United States are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The nuts and bolts of what this means for Sacramento County bridges, however, is complex, with categories spanning across different agencies and federal and state regulations.

Still, according to the National Bridge Inventory, it looks like about half of the more than 400 bridges in Sacramento County were classified, as of 2009, as deficient or functionally obsolete.

Even so, Dan Regan, a spokesman for Sacramento County’s Department of Transportation, said such categories can be misleading. “Sometimes a structurally deficient classification is for something as simple as a paint job,” he said.

Matt Rocco, a spokesman for Caltrans, added that structural deficiency is simply a means of flagging a bridge that has a problem, which can include lack of roadside space for emergencies, clearance or inadequate number of lanes for traffic.

“The classification of a bridge as ‘structurally deficient’ or ‘functionally obsolete’ does not mean it is unsafe,” he said. “These designations are used to prioritize funding for major bridge repairs and replacements.”

With that wording in mind, the NBI—an assessment which ranks bridges that are 20 feet or longer based on federal statistics—shows that most Sacramento County bridges can be considered in decent shape.

As part of the complex language of bridge repair, though, several county bridges did receive an assessment of their overall condition, known as a structural evaluation, of “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action” or “basically intolerable requiring high priority of replacement.”

The I Street Bridge, at Interstate 5, southbound between Sacramento and West Sacramento, and the Freeport Bridge, on Highway 160, are two examples of the first category. The 41-year-old I Street Bridge, resembling a railroad trestle and coated in rust, is ranked as functionally obsolete and received a sufficiency rating of 51 percent. Also functionally obsolete, the Freeport Bridge, which received a rating of 11 percent.

Further out in the county, the Walnut Grove Bridge along the Sacramento River received an evaluation of receiving high priority for replacement.

Other area bridges receiving ratings less than 50 percent on the NBI include the Twin Cities Road Bridge, the Franklin Boulevard Bridge and the Sutter Slough Bridge.

According to Mike Meschi, a civil engineer with Sacramento’s Department of Transportation, approval and funding have been secured from Caltrans to replace the Twin Cities—which dates back to 1931—and Franklin Boulevard bridges.

“We have no critical bridges for repairs and/or replacement,” Meschi told SN&R, while adding this could change. “We have submitted a new list of bridge candidates to Caltrans for replacement and rehabilitations, requesting … nine bridges for replacement and five for rehabilitations.”

Funded by Measure A’s sales and gas taxes, Caltrans inspects the bridges biannually and makes recommendations, with the county responsible for the actual repairs and replacement. Bridges are inspected for cracks, corrosion, design, welding and other efficiencies. The aim is to prevent smaller problems from becoming larger ones. In the worst-case scenario, a bridge can collapse, as was the case in a 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse that killed several people.

In Sacramento, Regan said all the bridges are up to Caltrans standards. Added Rocco, “Any bridge determined to be unsafe would be closed until repairs are completed.”