A bridge spanning the 10 Freeway over the Los Angeles River is one of the most… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
A stretch of the 10 Freeway, spanning the Los Angeles River and a maze of surface streets near downtown, routinely carries more than 300,000 vehicles a day. Built in 1959, the bridge has cracks in its concrete deck and is in need of repair.
It earned particular notoriety this week when a transportation advocacy nonprofit declared it one of the most heavily trafficked structurally deficient bridges in the U.S.
Using a 2010 federal database, the group's analysis also found that of the nation's 69,223 bridges classified as structurally deficient and in need of a combined $70.9 billion in repairs, Los Angeles County is home to 91 of the 99 busiest. That doesn't mean any are about to fall, but "they threaten to become weak links, as they age and deteriorate," the organization said.
Even though the findings come from Transportation For America, an interest group unabashedly campaigning for transportation improvements, they nonetheless highlight an impending challenge to national, state and local officials as traffic volume continues to grow and funding for road and bridge repair gets harder to find.
"We cannot continue this path of deferring all of our current transportation infrastructure needs for the next generation to tackle," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in response to the report, released Wednesday. "We need to immediately address it."
Parts of the report, however, were disputed by Caltrans, the agency charged with making sure freeway bridges are safe.
"The data Transportation For America used to produce the deficient bridge report is outdated," said Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco. "Caltrans has already completed repairs to some of the bridges, meaning they are no longer structurally deficient," he said.
Though dozens of structurally deficient bridges across the county may seem to only suffer from potholes, graffiti and overgrown brush, the report suggests they have substantive problems with their decks and supports.
Doug Failing, executive director of highways for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the group's findings are "reason to be concerned, although not reason to be panicked."
Structurally deficient bridges are not on the brink of collapse but are in need of repair to extend their life spans, Failing said. Most of the county's bridges were built in the 1950s and '60s with roughly 50- to 60-year life spans; putting off repairs will only multiply future expenses and could prove dangerous, he said.
The report also showed that Pittsburgh — where 30.4% of the bridges are classified as structurally deficient — leads all metropolitan areas with more than 2 million people. San Francisco ranked second with 20.9%, Sacramento was fourth with 15.4%, followed by Riverside with 12.2%.
Martin Wachs, director of transportation, space and technology at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corp., said infrastructure repair serves as a fast way to create jobs but that securing funding can be tough and unpopular.
"Politically there's almost no obvious reward for fixing something before it collapses as opposed to building something new," Wachs said. "We constantly turn our backs on the importance of our infrastructure.... Eventually when we face the music, it's going to cost more and it's going to be more difficult and complex," he said.
City officials and business leaders attending a news conference at the 10 Freeway bridge over the L.A. River said they were taken aback by the report. The bridge is scheduled to be repaired in coming years.
"This report should serve as a wake-up call," said Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a candidate for mayor. "Under investing in our infrastructure could threaten public safety and impact our economy," Greuel said.
She urged Congress to set aside the $70.9 billion that Transportation For America says is needed — based on 2009 data — to eliminate the current backlog of bridge repairs nationwide instead of the mere fraction currently allocated.
Gary Toebben, head of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the report was worrisome because so much of the region's economic engine relies on unobstructed freeway movement.
"Our regional ports handle over 43% of all water-borne imports, over $300 billion in total imports and exports every year, and support 3.3 million jobs nationwide," Toebben said.
"If our bridges can't handle this critical goods movement," he said, "our regional, state, and national economy will suffer."
Los Angeles Times staff writer Ricardo Lopez contributed to this report.