Tipping Point: Ill. bridges may become dangerous down the road - FOX 32 News Chicago

Tipping Point: Illinois bridges may become dangerous down the road

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The cost, comfort, timeliness and accessibility of our transportation systems are crucial to Chicago's economy and jobs. But all of it is moot if the rides are not safe. FOX 32 News took a look at the inspection of local bridges.

The Morgan Street Bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway is just one of seven bridges getting rebuilt by the state this winter. The project will cost Illinois $100 million.

The city of Chicago says it will be rebuilding 26 bridges over the next decade - signs of an infrastructure crisis that's been creeping up on us for years. This winter's heavy doses of salt haven't helped.

"When salt gets to the steel, steel corrodes, expands, making concrete crack. Then after cracking, more salt goes in, more corrosion happens, larger cracks happen," IIT bridge expert Dr. Gongkang Fu told FOX 32. "Many cycles after that, concrete falls apart. That's how deterioration happens."

Chicago's had several incidents of falling chunks of concrete in recent years, but nothing like the 2007 rush hour collapse of a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The incident sent 111 vehicles plunging into the river, killing 13 people.

State inspectors had rated that bridge "structurally deficient." It's problems included cracking and fatigue.

A recent report found that among Illinois' 26,000 bridges, about 2,300 - or one in every 12 - were also "structurally deficient." That means engineers have identified major defects in their supports or their surfaces and they need significant maintenance or replacement.

One way to view these bridges is to look at them as concrete and steel baby boomers. Most of them were built in the1950s or early1960s and they're now really starting to show their age.

"They're not going to fall down tomorrow, but they are in desperate need of repair," Illinois Road and Builders Transportation Association's John Bryan said. "The average lifespan of a bridge is 50 years old and the average age of these bridges is 40 in the state of Illinois."

You can locate these deficient bridges using an interactive map offered by Transportation for America. The data is from 2012. Some of the bridges have been repaired since then.

You can also compare Illinois bridges with other states using an interactive map from The American Society of Civil Engineers. They gave the Illinois bridges just a "C+" and even worse, they gave the infrastructure of Illinois railroads a "D" - a "D" that could stand for danger down the road.

Fifty percent of the nation's rail cargo moves through the Chicago region. Those shipments can sometimes be deadly.

In Quebec last July, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. It was the deadliest of ten accidents in the last six years, involving freight trains hauling oil across North America. Crude shipments by rail are increasing, because pipelines can't meet the demand.

Noting such accidents, Mayor Emanuel is pushing for a "national hazardous waste fee" on tank cars moving through cities like Chicago. He said the fees will "support rebuilding of America's aging rail infrastructure to keep our communities safe."

Peter Skosey of the Metropolitan Planning Council told FOX 32 that new sources of funding, whether for railroads or bridges, are long overdue.

"Infrastructure is expensive," Skosey said. "It's one of those things that we would defer paying on until some point in the future where it's either crumbling down or gotten to the point where you absolutely can't defer it anymore."

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