in Houston, Texas
Should TxDOT spend money to replace local bridges with little traffic?
Monday, Aug 06, 2012, 01:04PM CST
By Curt Olson

Take a 90-minute drive west of the Texas Capitol in Austin, and you could find yourself driving across a bridge over the Pedernales River in Gillespie County.

The bridge at Boos Lane Crossing, with daily traffic of about 25 cars, may emerge as a new symbol of wasted money for Texas’ growing transportation needs. It would cost $370,000 to replace the bridge, KXAN in Austin reports.

The Texas Department of Transportation grabbed recent attention for higher executive pay and more administrative positions. Also, Texas lawmakers have learned this summer the state is approaching its debt limit on transportation projects, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Now KXAN reports Texas spends millions of dollars replacing bridges that have little traffic, and it would be cheaper to repair them.

The money comes from $230 million allocated from the federal Highway Bridge Program. TxDOT directs $170 million to bridges it owns and maintains and $60 million to “off-system” bridges such as Boos Lane Crossing, which counties and municipalities own and maintain, KXAN reported.

Of these local, low-traveled bridges, TxDOT has about 440 bridges with a daily traffic count of fewer than 100 cars that will be replaced in the next five years at a cost of more than $150 million. These bridges are part of the 1,052 statewide that will be repaired or replaced the next five years costing $1.35 billion, according to KXAN. The projects are prioritized based on bridge structure, serviceability and obsolescence, and how essential each bridge is to public use, although this last factor accounts for just 15 percent of the grade, KXAN reports.

(Be sure to check out KXAN’s online database of bridge projects statewide and interactive map of Austin-area projects.)

There’s added pressure on county and municipal officials. Residents travel across these bridges with low traffic counts, and if local officials don’t take the federal money to replace the bridge in question, TxDOT will direct it elsewhere. TxDOT officials told Gillespie County leaders the county would bear the full financial burden to repair the Boos Lane Crossing bridge, and the other option is to close it, which also isn’t palatable.

But don’t tell that to Philip Taetz, a retired Texas A&M civil engineering professor who lives near Boos Lane Crossing and told KXAN replacing the bridge was “waste in the worst possible form.”

Contact Curt Olson at or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of the Regency Bridge by flickr user barron, used via a Creative Commons license.

Jim Vance
Wednesday, 08/08/2012 - 01:45PM

One of the basic principles of pork-barrel funding programs is that the largesse is spread around to benefit the greatest number of beneficiaries (or cronies), and sometimes the definition of "need" is interpreted with great flexibility. Whether this particular bridge structure -- which appears from the photograph to be a legacy truss design, perhaps even historic in character, dating from the massive roadbuilding efforts during the 1920s and 1930s throughout the state following inception of the Federal-Aid Highway program that begat the modern Texas Highway Department -- actually remains in good structural condition after decades of limited County maintenance is perhaps an issue that could and should be addressed first. If such an assessment was performed by TxDOT or the County Engineer beyond some cursory level isn't clear from the article,but what does seem clear is that one local resident with potentially relevant engineering qualifications has a strong personal viewpoint. However, there is no substantiation of that viewpoint or support for his assertion that a replacement vs. repair decision was somehow incorrect or economically unjustified, and the reporter might have pursued that particular angle just a bit more deeply before the article was finalized and published.

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