NEWARK, N.J. - Although New Jersey has dramatically increased spending for bridge repairs in recent years, it has fixed just one of its 20 busiest structurally deficient bridges in the year since the deadly Minneapolis bridge collapse.
That rate trails the national trend, although New Jersey is ahead of the curve by having started work on 11 of the other busy bridges. It has also made plans for repairs on the remaining eight, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The scope of the work is daunting. New Jersey officials have estimated it would cost nearly $13.6 billion in the next decade to fix 700 deficient and 1,500 obsolete bridges around the state, most of which are owned by counties or towns.
Those figures came from an inventory of 6,400 large bridges around New Jersey ordered by Gov. Corzine following the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. The state is directly responsible for about 2,600 of the large bridges.
"First thing we have to do is take care of the deficit we have in transportation infrastructure so we don't end up having a Minneapolis bridge collapse," Corzine said.
Corzine had hoped to get more money for transportation needs, including bridge repairs, through a significant increase in highway tolls, but that effort stalled amid public and legislative opposition. His administration is working on a revised transportation funding plan expected to be released this summer.
But costs have only continued to rise. Officials found repairs to the aging Pulaski Skyway, a 3.5-mile span connecting Jersey City to Newark, would cost nearly $40 million, four times what was initially estimated. The revised estimate came after inspectors found the bridge in worse shape than expected.
The problem "underscores the lack of investment we've made in our infrastructure," said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly's transportation committee.
Spending has not kept pace with increased traffic, leaving some bridges with weight restrictions or closed lanes, choking traffic and economic development, Wisniewski said.
He has supported an 18-cent increase in the state gasoline tax, now among the lowest in the nation at 10.5 cents, which he figures would cost the average driver an extra 30 cents a day.
"For safer bridges and greater economic development, it's a great deal," he said.
The Pulaski Skyway ranks 17th-busiest of New Jersey's structurally deficient bridges, handling 108,000 vehicles daily.
Tops on the list is the Driscoll Bridge carrying the Garden State Parkway over the Raritan River in Middlesex County, where a new southbound span recently opened and work is continuing on the northbound lanes. About 239,000 vehicles cross daily.
The only deficient busy bridge fixed in New Jersey over the last year is the Route 46 span over Peckman's Brook in Passaic County. It handles nearly 142,000 vehicles daily, making it the eighth-busiest New Jersey bridge that had been rated structurally deficient before the I-35W collapse.
The structurally deficient category means that elements of a bridge need monitoring and parts of the bridge need to be scheduled for repair or replacement.
It does not necessarily mean a bridge is unsafe, though it is one of the key factors used to determine when a bridge is at risk, and which ones qualify for federal funding.
"Structural deficiency ultimately determines whether a bridge will stand or fall," said New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri. But recognizing the problem is only the first step. "If you look at the full picture of bridges and the task that transportation professionals have, it's an overwhelming task."
The state budget includes $632 million for bridge work, including $61.7 million for bridges owned by county or local governments. When Corzine took office in 2006, the state budgeted about half that amount, $357 million.
Repairs on N.J. Bridges
The status of repairs to the 20 busiest structurally deficient bridges in New Jersey.
I-76 over Kings Highway. Partially fixed; work planned.
I-76 over southbound I-295. Partially fixed; work planned.
I-295 over Copley Road. Work planned.
I-295 over Clements Bridge Road. Work planned.
I-295 over White Horse Pike. Work planned.
State Route 4 over Teaneck Road. Work planned.
State Route 4 over Palisades Avenue, Windsor Road and CSX railroad tracks. Partially fixed; work planned.
State Route 4 over Hackensack River. Partially fixed; work planned.
Garden State Parkway over Elizabeth River. Work planned.
Pulaski Skyway over Passaic and Hackensack Rivers. Partially fixed; work planned.
Garden State Parkway over Raritan River. Partially fixed; work planned.
Grove Avenue over Port Reading. Work planned.
U.S. Route 1 a mile north of Route 130 around North Brunswick. Partially fixed; work planned.
State Route 18 over U.S. Route 1. Partially fixed; work planned.
I-80 and Ramp D over I-287. Partially fixed; work planned.
State Route 3 over Penn Street. Work planned.
State Route 3 over NJ Transit. Work planned.
U.S. Route 46 over Peckman's Brook. Fixed.
State Route 3 over Passaic River. Partially fixed; work planned.
I-178 westbound over Quarry Road. Partially fixed; work planned.
SOURCE: Associated Press