- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | While few of the 20 busiest Maryland bridges that are structurally deficient have been fixed, others are under construction and about half are in the design stage to receive new bridge decks, a process that could take up to five years for some projects.

After 13 people died in last year’s collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Gov. Martin O’Malley quickly highlighted the tragedy as an example of why state officials needed to invest in shoring up Maryland’s transportation infrastructure after years of neglect.

The governor, a Democrat, pushed for more than $400 million in new transportation money as part of $1.4 billion in tax increases approved in November’s special legislative session.

Lawmakers took about $50 million of the new transportation money to help make up for a repeal of an extension of the sales tax to computer services. As a result, the state ended up with about $360 million annually in new transportation funds.

State transportation officials concede that Maryland’s transportation infrastructure is aging: Many of its bridges are 40 to 50 years old.

With $40 billion in unmet transportation needs, the new money represents a small step forward overall.

But David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said $120 million in new money will be available over five years specifically for work on bridges. That adds up to about $24 million in additional money each year, starting in the next fiscal year. It will bring the total amount of state money available for bridge work to about $100 million a year.

“It’s a huge help,” Mr. Buck said. “It is an aging network of bridges and roads, and one that requires constant, constant upkeep.”

“By next April, we’re going to either have completed or have active construction on 32 more structural deficient bridges,” Mr. Buck said.

Two bridges in Prince George’s County, Maryland 201 north and southbound about two miles south of U.S. Route 50, are under construction, with new decks scheduled to be finished by year’s end.

One bridge on the list, the northbound Interstate 95 bridge over the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County near the Howard County line, is no longer considered to be structurally deficient. Mr. Buck said the state inspected the bridge again last August — after a previous inspection found it deficient — and inspectors agreed it didn’t warrant being listed.

The highway administration had a total of 163 structurally deficient bridges under its jurisdiction in 1998, Mr. Buck said. Now, there are 129, which is about 5 percent of the bridges maintained by the agency.

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