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About one-in-ten bridges rated in 'poor' condition in three Northeast Ohio counties

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Posted at 5:16 PM, Mar 22, 2022

CLEVELAND, OH — Federal inspection records show about one-in-ten bridges in three Northeast Ohio counties are rated "poor" by inspectors.

The issue of bridge safety has been in the headlines recently following January's bridge collapse in Pittsburgh and the recent passage of the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

And with Ohio having the second-most bridges of any state in the country, it's an issue that hits close-to-home to those who rely on the spans to get around.

Dontay Draekar of Cleveland says the bridges he sees are "terrible — either they're tore up on the top or falling down, and they've got screens everywhere."

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State Route 14 bridge near Henry St in Cuyahoga County.

It's wear-and-tear that doesn't go unnoticed.

"All up in the front right in here you can find the little cracks and stuff that needs to be replaced," said Candace Johnson as she waited for the Rapid at the RTA station near Warrensville Center Road in Shaker Heights.

Federal records show that bridge was one of 82 bridges in Cuyahoga County that inspectors said were in poor condition.

Statewide, about five percent of bridges were rated poor by inspectors.

In Cuyahoga County, records show more than 9% of bridges received poor grades.

The most-recent federal bridge inventory shows both Huron County (10.1%) and Portage County (10.4%) also had percentages of bridges in poor condition well-above the state average.

"Poor condition does not mean unsafe," said Tom Sotak, Chief Deputy Engineer of Cuyahoga County's Department of Public Works. "By poor or structurally deficient, it means the bridge is safe, but it does require more attention both on the planning/design and the maintenance side."

Sotak said if a bridge is deemed unsafe, it would be closed.

That's what happened last month to a bridge on Hawthorn Parkway through the Metroparks in Solon.

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Hawthorn Parkway bridge north of Aurora Rd through the Metroparks in Solon.

"I saw the cones," said Brooke Campana who lives nearby. "There was no notification as far as I know."

In a statement, a Metroparks spokeswoman explained, "In recent years Cleveland Metroparks has been actively monitoring the bridge, and while it had previously passed inspection, recent freeze-thaw cycles have impacted its condition requiring us to close the bridge."

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Hawthorn Parkway bridge north of Aurora Rd through the Metroparks in Solon.

Meaning, for now, people living in neighborhoods nearby must find a new way around the bridge.

"I mean it's an inconvenience," said Campana. "It's fine if you close it to make it safe, but don't let it sit here and wait months before it gets done."

So what is it about Northeast Ohio that's left 351 bridges in poor condition?

Sotak blames the region's winter weather.

"We get a lot more snow," said Sotak. "Hence, there's a lot more de-icing salts that are put on these bridges. De-icing salts are the number one enemy of steel and those items. It ages the bridges typically at a faster rate."

And fixing those bridges comes with a huge price tag, he said.

"You're probably looking at in the neighborhood of a couple hundred million dollars," Sotak estimated.

And that, he said, would just be to repair or replace the roughly 30 bridges in poor condition that are maintained by Cuyahoga County Public Works.

Sotak said typically the county averages about $10 million a year budgeted for bridge repairs.

So far Sotak, along with a spokesman for ODOT, said they have not been told how much additional federal infrastructure money could be headed to the region for bridge replacements.

But as bridges wear a little more each day, the need here is real.

"When a bridge is constructed it goes to the top of the deck," said Sotak. "But the day it's installed, it's already beginning to age and they're all continuing to drop down the deck and it's a continual shuffle of the deck. Your goal is to be able to shuffle them fast enough to keep up."

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