Mar 19, 2015 10:50 PM

NH1 News Investigates - Busted Bridges

Some of them are on the verge of crumbling and they may be the bridges you drive over each and every day.

But many Granite State bridges are dangerously old and most of us don't give it a second thought.

It's something most of us take for granted.

So we went digging for answers to find out just how safe - or unsafe - our state bridges are.

About 14,000 people take the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge connecting Portsmouth to Kittery Maine every day and that includes Jeannie Kincaid.

Even though she has concerns about the aging span, she still goes over it about four times a week.

"Certainly for safety reasons, we would want to have a new bridge," she says.

The aging span was built 75 years ago even though most bridges in the state were built to last 50 to 60 years.

In two years, a new bridge will replace the old one but since some say it seems like it's holding on by a thread, that doesn't make Kincaid feel safe.

"So when you look at the bridge physically, it doesn't give you a sense of modern technologies that you would feel safest on," she says.

Back in January, Senator Jeanne Shaheen along with others from both states, kicked off the ceremonial start for the replacement bridge.

As for the existing span, Bill Boynton of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation says time is not on this or many other bridges' side.

"We're talking months and not years left in the life of that bridge," Boynton says.

It's not just old age but there's plenty of rust, corrosion, and heavy truck traffic contributing to the bridge's structural integrity.

"We're down there all the time just trying to hold that together until this new bridge can be built," Boynton says.

It's a critical connection in critical condition.

Kincaid had no idea how bad it was until her to which she responded, "You had to share that, didn't ya? You know there are things better left unknown."

When asked how he would categorize bridges throughout New Hampshire, Boynton says, "A good portion of them are reaching an end of their design life."

He went on to say, "Does that mean that they're unsafe? No, but it certainly means there's a lot of reason for concern."

The Sarah Long Bridge is one of 70,000 bridges nationwide considered structurally deficient meaning it needs serious repair or replace.

Here in New Hampshire, there are 147 bridges out of the state's 2,142 bridges on what's called the "Red List." That means they fall into the category of being structurally deficient.

Sarah Long ranks the worst with the I-393 over I-93 in Concord coming in at number tow.

On any given day, 37,000 drivers take the road into or out of the capitol city.

Also on that list, two bridges on the Seacoast.

One of them in New Castle and Rye with the other in Seabrook and Hampton.

In the past, many have questioned why the seacoast got money to fix their bridges first.

The answer? Ask Mother Nature.

The sea coast takes a toll on bridges there with conditions that don't exist in most areas in the state.

So who comes up with the money to pay for the repairs and replacements?

The Federal government coughs up $150 million dollars a year while the state's gas tax and tolls also go towards the state's infrastructure needs.

"It is a lot of work and we're one of the oldest states in the nation," says Republican Senate president Chuck Morse, the vice-chairman of the state transportation committee.

When asked if the state is doing the best it can do, Morse said, "There is no doubt that our DOT has worked with less dollars and done more."

Boynton says if the bridges were maintained as they should have been, we would have seen less problems and saved a whole lot of money.

"This is something that we've tried to raise attention to for decades and it's deferred maintenance," Boynton says. "And again, you pay me now or you pay me later."

Money aside, Boynton says, don't be alarmed since crews inspect the bridges regularly.

"If a bridge is unsafe and we come up with inspection reports that determine something is unsafe, we will recommend immediate closure," he says.

As for Kincaid, she feels safer knowing she'll soon have a new bridge to drive over but at the same time, she knows the money has to come from somewhere and it all boils down to the money.

"You have to have that high risk to get the attention and the funds together to make it happen," she says.

If cuts to the State Department of Transportation's budget go through, bridge maintenance could suffer.

According to the NH DOT, here are the state's top 10 worst bridges:

#1 Sarah Long bridge
#2 I-393 over I-93
#3 Bridge St. over the Connecticut River in Stewartstown
#4 I-95 over the Taylor river in Hampton
#5 NH145 over bishop brook in Stewartstown
#6 NH 1B over Little Harbor in New Castle - Rye
#7 NH 1B over Hampton River in Seabrook - Hampton
#8 NH 16/25 over Bearcamp River in Ossipee
#9 NH 16/25 over the Lovell River in Ossipee
#10 NH 123a over Bowers Brook in Acworth

Here's a complete list of the 174 "Red List" Bridges from the NH DOT.


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