Kennedy Bridge in Louisville (BS File Photo)
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After a recent inspection, the Kennedy Bridge was again rated as “structurally deficient,” a title it’s held for several years. Sounds bad, right? In reality, the term is a technical one used by transportation engineers and can be a little misleading.

First for a little background on the inspection process that leads to a structurally deficient rating. According to the American Institute of Steel Construction:

Every two years bridge inspectors from state DOTs evaluate five bridge characteristics to report their conditions: the deck (generally the concrete roadway), superstructure (usually girders supporting the deck), substructure (vertical piers supporting the superstructure and deck), structural evaluation (a calculated value comparing load-carrying capacity to traffic volume), and waterway adequacy (generally clearance above high water). A bridge deemed lacking in any one of these five areas may be classified structurally deficient.

Bridges are rated on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 represents the worst case scenario (when there’s really something to worry about). The scale essentially determines what bridges are eligible for Federal replacement or repair funding, and a bridge must score at 40 or below to be of major concern.

The recent Kennedy Bridge inspection ranked the bridge at 75 out of 100. That’s up from a 73 rating in 2006. (Of greater concern, really is the Clark Memorial / Second Street Bridge which has a 53 rating and will bear the brunt of traffic growth if tolls are implemented.)

So it seemed strange when Downtown Development Corporation board member Paul Thompson wrote a C-J Letter to the Editor this weekend appealing to poor connotations of structural deficiency:

The recent article about the annual inspection of the Kennedy Bridge is a wakeup call. “Structurally deficient” and “hollow spots” are not terms I want to hear in relation to a bridge that carries some 130,000 vehicles a day in my hometown… We need the bridges project, the entire project, to move forward with both bridges—East End and downtown—and the reconstruction of Spaghetti Junction.

The annual inspection of the Kennedy Bridge did show that there’s maintenance to be done, but what piece of infrastructure doesn’t need maintenance? According to a C-J article on the inspection (emphasis added):

“Not much changed from last year.” said Josh Rogers, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s project manager for Ohio River Bridge Inspections. He added that hollow spots—found by tapping on the bridge’s concrete deck—will be referred to consultants for further investigation when they conduct a more formal inspection in December. Eventually, the areas that sound hollow are likely to become potholes, Rogers said.

The bridge was rated as structurally deficient because of roadway cracks, joint seals that were failing and small cracks in its concrete piers—a rating carried by thousands of bridges across the country.

So we’re essentially talking about repaving or eventual deck replacement. Sounds like standard fare for bridge maintenance to me. But watch out for possible billboards this fall touting that “structural deficiency” as something more than what it actually is.

A group called LIUNA, the Laborer’s International Union of North America, is planning to place billboards across Kentucky announcing to motorists that the bridge they will be driving on is “structurally deficient.” (PDF release here.) At stake for LIUNA are construction jobs created from maintaining infrastructure, but pandering to fears of average citizens seems irresponsible.

As a former board member of the Friends of the Waterfront, surely Thompson can’t believe that building the entire Ohio River Bridges Project calling for a massive Spaghetti Junction and a vastly wider highway over Waterfront park is a good thing for Downtown livability.

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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

7 COMMENTS

  1. That the ORBP doesn’t include a Kennedy rehab makes the demagoguery even more pernicious. It’s part and parcel of the full PR campaign for the ORBP, to create all these false visions in the public mind about what’s going to happen. One of the other big lies has been about the number of construction jobs that will be created by the project.

  2. The article is accurate in its characterization of the term structurally deficient. There’s nothing to be made, though, of no current plans for rehab of the Kennedy in the ORBP. There is a separate category of federal funding for repair of bridges.

    @Aaron M. Renn

  3. The instigation for Thompson’s letter was this article (http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2010309200086), which, in the paper edition of the Courier was the largest headline that day – about 32 point – complete with large picture. The obvious ‘subtle’ editorial decision for such use of the article was, for easy targets like Thompson, to get people to connect the rather benign information with ORBP and make them conclude that somehow the project is more necessary. I hate this kind of conspiratorial thinking, even on my own part… but, well, there it is.

    Mr. Renn… please come to Louisville and speak.

  4. not only does this seem knowing and intentional on mr thompson’s part, it’s sort of disgusting. i hate political disingenuity, and it’s way too prevalent.

    we may or may not need the bridges project, but to manipulate why and how people will form their opinions for or against by misleading them is awfully cynical and disappointing, especially for someone who is supposed to be representing the public interest in an organization like the downtown development corp. bleh.

  5. Ken, appreciate the sentiments. I’m usually only back in Louisville around holidays visiting family. I need to get into town when I’ve got more time to enjoy the city.

  6. Thanks for the link to Louisville Metro Mapper’s national bridge safety map. Here is a direct link to the Kennedy Bridge with extended details on our parent site, Your Mapper:

    http://www.yourmapper.com/details/124/056B00214N/status-structurally-deficient-rating-73.htm

    Here is the relevant info:

    Status: Structurally Deficient, Rating: 73%
    Route: I-65, Location: KENNEDY BRIDGE OVER OHIO
    OHIO RIVER, KY
    Structurally Deficient
    Inspected: 08/06, Built: 1964, Daily Traffic: 136,000

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