Are Arkansas Bridges Structurally Sound?

REGION 8--After the bridge collapse in Minnesota, many of us in Region 8 may be wondering, how safe are bridges in this area?

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 27% or roughly 160,000 state owned bridges like the one in Minnesota are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

At least three of those bridges are on major roadways here in Region 8.

Truck driver Steve Woods makes the trip over the Black Rock Bridge at least five times a day and almost always thinks what if.

"I think everyone thinks about it all the time who crosses it a lot," said Woods.

He isn't the only one, Walnut Ridge resident Nancy Medlock crosses the bridge for work everyday and feels the bridge should be replaced.

"I heard a story a few years ago about a guy who painted the underside of the bridge. He said if people knew how many loose bolts were on their, they wouldn't drive on it," said Medlock.

Motorists say cruising over the bridge is a shake, rattle and roll.

"It's not that noticeable if you are rolling through, but if you are sitting still and they are working on the bridge, you can really feel the shake," said Woods.

Anyone who has driven over the bridge in Black Rock has felt the shake. While the bridge is due to be replaced, the highway department still says it is safe to drive on. However, for residents that's not much relief.

"No because the governor up there said that one was safe," said Medlock.

Arkansas Highway Department District Engineer Joe Barnett says area bridges are safer than you might think.

"Movement on bridges is very normal and expected. It's actually anticipated," said Barnett.

He says the structures are inspected every year or two depending on the bridge's age.

"I have over 600 state owned bridges in Northeast Arkansas and more than that in county and city bridges. So we have three crews that inspect bridges on a daily basis," said Barnett.

He says the Black Rock, Newport, and Pocahontas bridges were all built before the bridge in Minnesota. Like that bridge, they're listed as structurally deficient, but Barnett says they're no where close to falling down.

"We are concerned by it, but we are confident our inspection process is adequate to ensure safety for the traveling public," said Barnett.

He did say that if a bridge were to be judged as unsafe, they would have no problem closing it, no matter how inconvenient it might be.

Late Thursday afternoon Governor Beebe released a statement saying if any information is found that warrants a review of inspection procedures in Arkansas, Beebe will work with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to take necessary steps.