“It can’t happen here.”

That’s the refrain state transportation officials repeated again and again after a major interstate bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last summer. But an exclusive and exhaustive CBS4 I-Team investigation calls all that into question.

One of the first bridges looked at was a 60-foot long span on Washington Avenue next to Miami Beach’s Convention Center. As cars and buses whizzed by overhead, a close inspection found a dangerous and potentially catastrophic secret; a large crack running the width of the bridge, its concrete substructure separatend from the supporting steel by several feet.

A memo from Florida’s Department of Transportation engineers to Miami Beach city officials concerning the bridge, dated January 14th, obtained by the CBS4 I-Team says the “the ability for the steel to yield is no longer present. This will lead to a failure in a catastrophic mode.”

Even though state engineers warned city officials at Miami Beach of the danger on January 4th, the bridge remained open. Eleven days later, a day after they got the memo, Miami Beach city officials finally shutdown the bridge.

“We even try to warn them. “Look it’s not going well. You guys need to take action,” said Frank Guyamier, a Florida DOT bridge expert.

But it wasn’t just the bridge on Washington Avenue that was a problem. Dozens of other bridges throughout South Florida are in need of repairs including a major drawbridge on Miami Avenue in Downtown Miami spanning the Miami River, the westbound bridge out of Key Biscayne and the bear cut portion of Rickenbacker Causeway built in 1944.

A CBS4 I-Team investigation reviewed more than 15-thousand inspection records on every bridge in Florida – records kept in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s structure inventory and appraisal of the nation’s bridges. Included in that massive list, inspection records for every one of the 26,022 bridges in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Of those, 45 bridges were labeled by engineers as “structurally deficient” and in need of serious repair or replacing.

Click Here for a full listing of South Florida’s “structurally deficient” bridges.

In fact, the bridge that collapsed over the Mississippi river in Minneapolis last summer was rated structurally deficient.

While state transportation officials insist the “structurally deficient” rating does not mean these bridges are unsafe, they admit that when the bridges get to this point action needs to be taken before disaster strikes.

“It disturbs me a lot because all of the infrastructure that we depend on have got to be perfect,” said Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

These “imperfect” bridges can be found everywhere – crossing highways such as the Dolphin Expressway or crossing huge expanses of open water. Others serve as the only way in and out of neighborhoods.

In all, these structurally deficient bridges carry an average total of 312,000 vehicles everyday.

“Those bridges in many cases are frankly the only way we can use to evacuate people during a time of hurricane,” said U.S. Representative Mario Diaz Balart.

After years of repair and 10 million dollars worth of work, a bridge connecting Bahia Honda Key to Key West is still on the structurally deficient list.

“That’s a mile long bridge where there’s no way to go except down into the water,” said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.

At other bridges, supports holding them up show clear signs of deterioration; steel rebar hanging loose, chunks of concrete missing..

“Congress is always asleep at the switch. There is no excuse. There is no justification and it gets to the point where they are putting our people at risk for no good reason,” said Representative Diaz Balart.

The bottom line, according to the DOT, there are just too many old bridges and not enough federal, state and local money allocated to maintain them all.

After the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Congress approved another one billion dollars to fix our nation’s bridges, but most experts agree that is simply not enough to keep up with the deteriorating state of the nation’s bridges.

Surprisingly, Florida is in relatively good shape compared to many other states
(© MMX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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