Aurora Bridge closure highlights state's aging bridge system

SEATTLE - There are more than 7,000 bridges in Washington that are both locally and state-owned. Overall, many of them are aging with hundreds of bridges that are more than 80 years old.

The Aurora Bridge is just one example. Tens of thousands of drivers rely on the Aurora Bridge every day.

“That’s the way I take every single day,” Seattle resident Rylee Koski said.

WSDOT owns 280 bridges that are more than 80 years old. The mandate is to inspect every bridge every two years, but WSDOT says in many cases, inspectors are doing more frequent checks.

“It really depends on the structure, depends on the wear and tear,” Bart Treece of WSDOT said.

In the case of the Aurora Bridge, a steel beam that holds a portion of the southbound bridge deck is failing after years of corrosion and heavy traffic.

That raises the question: could there be more bridges WSDOT is unaware of in the same state?

“If a bridge is open, it’s safe. We know the conditions of our assets,” Treece said.

WSDOT says they are confident in their meticulous inspection protocols.

As they keep an eye out on for new safety issues, they also have to balance old ones. Of the more than 7,456 bridges in the state, 332 bridges are described as poor, meaning things like section loss and deterioration.

WSDOT owns more than 3,000 of the 7,456 bridges, so not all of the 332 bridges mentioned belong to them.

But the ones that do include SR 520 over 116th Ave NE in King County and the Purdy Bridge in Pierce County.

Although none of the poor conditions mean catastrophic failures, often an aging bridge means more money for maintenance and possibly more road closures.

The funds to repair the Aurora Bridge will come from the gas tax.