NEWS

Could it happen here?

Thomas V. Bona and Bob Schaper

The Rock River Valley’s major bridges are safe, according to Federal Highway Administration data.

The bridges with safety concerns are either well-publicized, such as Morgan Street in Rockford, or are lower-traffic spans with weight limits.

"Our bridges are in good shape," City Engineer Brad Moberg said. "If I thought they were unsafe, I’d close them. I don’t care who owns them."

None of the bridges in the city or on any of the state highways in the region has the same design as the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed Wednesday night.

But state and local officials spent the day talking about their inspection processes and, in some cases, eyeballing their bridges to calm public concerns.

Most bridges in Rockford and in the state highway system are inspected every two years. Smaller bridges are often inspected every four years. Bridges that cross water are required to have an additional "scour analysis" every five years to check for damage from the current below.

The city’s next round of inspections starts at the end of the month. State inspectors visit their bridges on a rotating basis.

Under Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s orders, inspectors did visual checks of major bridges Thursday. The only ones in the Rock River Valley that fit that category are the ones that cross the Kishwaukee River on I-39. Those bridges are under a previously scheduled rehabilitation project anyway.

Major bridges score well

"Overall, I think our bridges are in fairly good shape. We have a rigorous inspection program," said John Wegmeyer, project implementation engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"From an engineering perspective, we’re really curious about what happened in Minneapolis. It’s just hard to fathom what happened that got the dominoes falling. Once that’s established, we may be looking at all our bridges again."

According to the National Bridge Inventory, obtained Thursday by the Register Star, the area’s busiest bridges scored well in the Federal Highway Administration’s "structural adequacy and safety" rating. Bridges are rated based on the quality of their superstructures and substructures.

The 97 busiest bridges in the region scored at least 5 in each category, with most scoring even more on the 10-point scale. The ones that score lower cross 10,000 vehicles a day or less, a third of the traffic the area’s busiest bridges have.

Some problem bridges