Torrential Downpours Spell Trouble for Red-Listed Bridge

The recent heavy rains claimed a small bridge in Warner on Monday night. The Bartlett Loop bridge over Willow Brook was one of the state Department of Transportation’s many “red list” bridges in need of repair or replacement.  “This bridge was closed at this time due to the flood event and the washing away of the roadway material over the structure,” said Mark Richardson, ch. 3, an administrator at the NH DOT Bridge Design Bureau.  “But it was already severely deteriorated, was on the Municipal Red List, and needed rehabilitation or replacement prior to this event.”

According to the Union Leader, the small culvert bridge was one of six “red list” bridges discussed in a May presentation to the Warner Board of Selectmen. Firefighters said no one was injured and no neighborhoods were cut off by the bridge’s collapse.

Bridges can be red-listed for any number of reasons, including “known structural deficiencies, poor structural conditions or weight restrictions,” according to the DOT. Out of around 2,100 bridges in the state, 140 are on the red list. While it’s unclear how much of a role the bridge’s condition played in Monday’s washout, it’s a reminder that red-listed bridges are a big problem in New Hampshire.

The big issue, not surprisingly, in repairing or replacing these red-listed bridges is money. Competing with the bridges for DOT funds are thousands of miles of roadway that need to be maintained, repaired or replaced (currently, 37 percent of roads in New Hampshire are considered “in poor condition” by the DOT). Simply put, the state simply does not have enough money to fix or replace its aging roads and bridges.

Knowing that, House lawmakers this year passed a gas tax increase that would have dedicated money to the highway fund, which pays for road and bridge work. Similarly, the Senate passed a casino bill that would also have dedicated money for the highway fund. Unfortunately, the Senate rejected the gas tax increase and the House rejected the casino bill, and we’re left driving on crumbling roads and rusty bridges.

At this point, there can be no argument: we need money to fix our roads and bridges. Hopefully in the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers will stop arguing and reach a solution.

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