|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Bridges earn Polk Co. dubious ranking in the state of Texas
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — The 2012 bridge inspection report by the Texas Department of Transportation showed that of 118 highway system bridges in Polk County, one bridge was found to be structurally deficient and nine were listed as functionally obsolete. Engineers listed the remaining 108 as "good or better." When TxDOT engineers inspected the off-system bridges that are 20 feet or longer the picture was much gloomier. Of the 94 off-system bridges inspected, hey found 37 bridges that were structurally deficient; 22 that were functionally obsolete; 10 that are substandard for the load. That amounts to more than one-third of the deficient bridges in the Lufkin district are in Polk County and onefifth of the structurally obsolete bridges in the district. Pct. 4 County Commissioner Tommy Overstreet correctly points out that his precinct and Pct. 3 have most of the "hills and hollows" in the county, and indeed may have the lion's share of the 531 off-system bridges in the TxDOT district. "I've got 42 bridges and (Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis) has 50," Overstreet said. "We still have a lot of narrow, one lane bridges and it costs $300,000 to $600,000 apiece to replace them," Overstreet said. "Most of mine that were one way in and one way out have been redone and they are no longer deficient. It comes down to how much people want to spend. It might still be a wooden bridge, but it's got a steel superstructure. It's wood and steel as opposed to just being wood." "We've seen a little more action out of TxDOT recently with their Off-System Bridge Replacement Project." Overstreet said that "structurally deficient" may be open to a wide degree of interpretation as well. He adds that any bridge that is part of a school bus route or other vital transportation route has to be addressed immediately, so it cannot wait the extended length of time it takes to be part of the off-system bridge replacement project. His crews have to repair it immediately. Overstreet also expressed his frustration over the recent failure of HB 777. which was meant to address weight limits on county roads. The bill passed the Texas House and was left pending in the Senate Transportation Committee at the end of the session. "Right now, a logging contractor can move in and he'll be hauling logs across one of my 10,000-pound bridges. If he chooses to buy a permit, then I will get to charge them for damages," Overstreet said. State Rep. James White says that logging companies will have to look closely at the options they have for permits and the risk of fines for being overweight as they make their business plans. "Right now timber trucks currently operate under a 2060 permit that allows them to haul 34,080/axle and 84,000 gross weight. A new permit would allow a timber truck to haul 44,000 pounds per axle, 84,000 gross if they purchase a $15,000 surety bond good for one year that would allow them to haul in 43 "timber counties." This permit would transmit their route and anticipated schedule two days in advance, allowing the county to photograph road conditions for "before and after" documentation. Trucks without proper permits are subject to a $5,000 fine. Trucks with a permit that are overweight are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $2,500 fine for overweight on an axle, or $100 to $10,000 for over gross weight. The structurally deficient rating means that the bridge rated poor or worse on the superstructure, the deck, or the substructure and it needs significant repairs, maintenance or replacement. The state may restrict heavy vehicle traffic, conduct immediate repairs or close the bridge until repairs are made. The antiquated highway funding model is exacerbating the problem. Between 2006 and 2009, federal appropriations for bridge repairs have increased by $650 million, but bridge needs have grown by $22.8 billion. White says there is a plan among legislators in the next biennium to attempt to devote vehicle sales tax to transportation needs. White remains hopeful that Gov. Perry will add transportation to the call for the current special session. "You can't blame anyone who's sitting here now. It's decades of not getting after it. In 2010, TxDOT listed Polk County as No. 4 of the 254 counties in Texas with the worst bridge conditions with 17.5 percent of its bridges listed as structurally deficient. Ninety-nine of the 254 counties exceeded the state average. If state officials want to continue to see the rapid growth that Texas has experienced in recent years they have to allocate funds to build infrastructure, Rep. White said Tuesday. "Transportation isn't like water, and we've been treating it like water. We don't have one red cent for one new road in Texas as fast as this state is growing. That's downright criminal," White said. "This session we appropriated $450 million to repair roads in the shale regions like where Eagle Ford Shale is seeing so much drilling activity. We're beating our chests in Austin about the Rainy Day Fund, but that's replenished with oil and gas severance taxes. That activity means big heavy trucks are taking a toll on county roads. We've got to get those back up to standard, not just for oil and gas trucks but we've got school buses and other important purposes — for the citizens themselves. We've got a huge state that's got a lot going on in each region and we've got to find a way to take care of all of it.