Illinois bridge woes worsen
State has fourth-highest number of ‘structurally deficient’ bridges in nation, and more than five years ago
By Ted Cox
Illinois has the fourth-most bridges considered “structurally deficient” in the nation, and the problem has only worsened over the last five years, according to a new study put out by a construction group.
The national 2019 Bridge Report, put out by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, found that the state had 2,273 bridges rated “structurally deficient.” Only Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma had more.
While that amounts to 8.5 percent of the state’s 26,809 bridges, ranking Illinois 20th by percentage, that’s up 115 from the 2,114 bridges rated deficient five years ago. Illinois was one of 14 states to see an increase over that time span.
Some 167 of the bridges are on interstate highways, and many of those are among the most traveled in the state. Another 1,191 smaller bridges are “posted for load,” meaning they have a weight limit for structural concerns.
According to the report, even the state has identified 4,032 bridges in need of repairs, and the cost of restoring them is estimated at $4.8 billion. There has been virtually no change from five years ago, when 4,036 were deemed in need of repairs.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker ran for office on a platform stating the need for a major capitol bill for infrastructure, but while a recent poll of state drivers found that 73 percent think the state’s roads “fair” at best, and 61 percent think current funding inadequate, a vast majority, 74 percent, said they were unwilling to accept higher taxes or fees to pay for it.
The three most traveled state bridges rated deficient were I-90/94 over Stewart Avenue in Cook County, with 246,500 daily crossings, I-55 over Madison Street in DuPage County, with 164,000, and I-94 over the Skokie River, also in Cook, with 158,600.
But the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River, which was briefly closed last winter when brutal weather caused a beam failure, ranked ninth with 123,200 crossings, and three other LSD bridges placed in the top 12. The Chicago River bridge is an Art Deco structure dating from 1937, and two of the other LSD bridges in the top 12 are older than that.
Three Illinois congressional districts had 9 percent or more of all bridges found to be structurally deficient. That included the 14th District comprising some of the far western and southern suburbs of Chicago in DuPage, Kane, and Will counties, where 9.8 percent of bridges were found suspect, including the I-80 bridge over the Des Plaines River. That bridge has seen a union construction group post signs nearby reading, “Bridge ahead in critical condition” and “Cross bridge at your own risk.”
The 17th District in the northwest corner of the state along the Mississippi River found that 9.7 percent of bridges were structurally deficient, while the 18th District just to the south had 9 percent. The busiest for both was the I-74 bridge across the Illinois River in Tazewell County that they share as a border.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin recently urged the release of federal highway funds they specifically had earmarked for bridge repairs, and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute issued a report a year ago that found that IDOT roadways have deteriorated over the last two decades due to lack of repairs and the failure to pass a major capital spending bill.