Three people were injured when an Interstate 5 bridge collapsed Thursday and toppled into a chilly Washington river. It has many people wondering if a similar incident could happen on one of Middle Tennessee's bridges.
The Channel 4 I-Team has learned there are 36 truss bridges across Tennessee like the one that collapsed north of Seattle.
The bridges are typically older in nature and look like the one where Highway 100 crosses the Harpeth River in Bellevue and where State Route 96 crosses the Harpeth west of Nashville.
These types of bridges are known to engineers as "fracture critical," which means the bridge could have a catastrophic failure or collapse even if just one component of the structure is compromised.
"If you are driving over these bridges, you can be sure that they are safe. That's why we have a pretty in-depth program to make sure that all bridges across the state are in good shape," said Tennessee Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Paul Degges.
Degges wants Tennessee drivers to know that if there were an unsafe bridge, he would close it down immediately.
In fact, the state's safety record has improved since the deadly Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. In August of that year, Tennessee had 1,202 bridges deemed "structurally deficient" bridges, which is actually not as bad as it may sound.
According to the state, that means there are parts on the bridge that may be damaged or deteriorated, but the damage is not at the level where it could cause a safety issue.
Now, the number of "structurally deficient" bridges in Tennessee is down to 1,017.
"We work very hard to make sure that the bridges - both on the state highway system and on public roads all across the state - are safe. We inspect them at least every two years. Many times for older, more fragile structures, we will inspect sometimes as often as every six months," Degges said.
As for those truss bridges in Middle Tennessee, TDOT said both bridges recently underwent renovations to improve their stability.
Overall, Tennessee has a good bridge inspection record. By law, states have to inspect bridges longer than 20 feet every two years and those shorter than 20 feet every four years.
Tennessee has nearly 20,000 bridges, and TDOT said not only do its inspectors follow those guidelines, but they often stay ahead of inspection schedule.
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