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Major bridge in Wisconsin shut after drivers report troubling sag

September 27, 2013|By Alana Semuels

A major bridge in Green Bay, Wis., that carries 40,000 cars a day is sagging and has been closed indefinitely after commuters called 911 when they noticed the troubling condition. 

One man driving a tractor trailer told CNN that the wheels had come off of his vehicle after he drove over the Leo Frigo Bridge on Interstate 43.

The state sent a "snooper vehicle" over the bridge to determine the cause of the sag and said that initial reports showed that a pier on the east side of the bridge, which stands on land, had settled. The state is looking into whether other piers have settled.

PHOTOS: The nation's aging bridges

"We are currently evaluating the cause of the closure," said the state Department of Transportation in a news release. It said there was no estimate for when the bridge would reopen.

The bridge, constructed in 1980, was last inspected in August of 2012, and underwent asphalt, joint and pin replacements this year and last. 

There are 60 deficient bridges in the state of Wisconsin, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, but this bridge was not one of them.

States and cities across the nation are grappling with how to fund road and bridge repairs with limited funds. Most depend in part on a portion of the gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. As consumers switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, the gas tax is also less lucrative.

A bill that would have provided funding for transportation projects next year collapsed in Congress in August after Senate Republicans blocked a $54-billion bill because it exceeded set spending limits. House Republicans had called off a vote on a $44-billion bill.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that bridge and road repair needs nationally have escalated to $20.5 billion a year.

There are 8,000 bridges across the country that are both "structurally deficient" and "fracture critical," according to Barry LePatner, a construction attorney who created the website SaveOurBridges.com, where people can look up dangerous bridges near their homes. He thinks that more bridges will collapse soon.

"It is only a matter of time because those bridges are fragile and the public is unsafe," he told the Los Angeles Times in August.

A bridge in Washington over the Skagit River collapsed earlier this year after being hit by a truck, closing Interstate 5 for days. In 2007, Minnesota's fourth-busiest bridge collapsed, killing 13.

A 2013 report card by the civil engineers society showed that 8.2% of Wisconsin's 14,057 bridges are structurally deficient, while 5.5% are functionally obsolete. In Pennsylvania, by comparison, 24.4% of the state's 22,669 bridges are structurally deficient, while 19.3% are functionally obsolete, the group said.

Though some parts of Wisconsin's budget have been scaled back in recent years by Gov. Scott Walker, transportation funding is not one of them. Walker's 2013 budget was criticized by some community groups for taking away funding from schools and diverting it to roads and bridges.

The group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin criticized Walker's budget for spending too much on highways, and not enough on local transportation budgets and transit.

The governor's budget, the group said, "calls for funding cuts to public schools, healthcare, and local governments. However, funding for transportation is up -- with the majority of the funds going towards costly roadway infrastructure improvements which demographic information show, are neither necessary nor desired by the people of Wisconsin," the group said in a news release.

The Leo Frigo bridge, named after a Wisconsin cheese kingpin, is owned by the state.

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