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Is the Brooklyn Bridge Safe? It's Been Classified as Structurally Deficient

Report on Nation's Infrastructure: 1 in 10 Area Bridges Structurally Deficient

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Is the Brooklyn Bridge Safe? It's Been Classified as Structurally Deficient

Although deemed "structurally deficient," meaning it needs maintenance, the Brooklyn Bridge is perfectly safe to use, say federal and state officials.

Photo by Ellen Freudenheim
The Brooklyn Bridge was classified as "structurally deficient" in a highly publicized 2011 report about the state of America's aging infrastructure.

So, is the Brooklyn Bridge safe?

Yes.

How Much Daily Traffic Does the Brooklyn Bridge Carry?

The over-a-century-old Brooklyn Bridge, like your spry 60 year old auntie, might have a few structural issues. But that doesn't mean it's not high-functioning, workable — and, of course, beautiful to look at.

The phrase, "structurally deficient" sounds alarming. But a bridge that's classified as structurally deficient "doesn’t mean it is unsafe for travel," explained Nancy Singer, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Transportation in an October, 2011, interview.

"If a bridge is deemed unsafe, it is closed," she said.

"Structurally Deficient," A Technical Classification, Sounds More Dangerous Than It Is

In technical terms, "structurally deficient" indicates that a bridge is in need of repair. It could mean, in the case of the Brooklyn Bridge, that it needs frequent inspection, or that the owners — the City of New York — need to post the bridge for lower weight limits.

Federal and New York City Department of Transportation officials stressed, in interviews conducted in October 2011, that the classification of "structurally deficient" doesn't mean people shouldn't walk, drive, bike, or dance across the Brooklyn Bridge. It just means that the bridge has aged to the point where the City needs to "keep an eye on it," said Steven Higadashe, an advocate with a local nonprofit, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

A medical analogy might be that a person in "deficient" in iron or calcium. It's fixable: that individual needs to change their diet or take supplements. Similarly, if a bridge has structural deficiencies, that doesn't mean it's on the verge of collapse. It simply needs a little extra work — and ongoing upkeep.

Brooklyn's Historic Bridges in Fine Fettle or Already Being Repaired

Brooklyn boosters may be obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge, but it's not the only bridge in town.

"All of New York City’s 787 bridges are in a state of good repair or have rehabilitation projects underway or planned, including the $508 million project to rehabilitate the approach ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge, which started last year," said Seth Solomonow, press secretary for the NYC DOT.

In a nod to city and federal funding, he cited the administration's "unprecedented $5 billion in investment in our bridges’ state of good repair."

About the Report The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Bridges

About one in ten of the so-called "greater New York metropolitan area" bridges — a geographical swath that includes Long Island and Westchester, and as places as distant as parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania — were rated as "structurally deficient" in an October 2011 study issued by the Washington, DC-based non-profit organization Transportation for America.

Citing the sudden closure of a major commuting bridge in Louisville, Kentucky earlier in the year, Transportation for America notes that "more than 18,000 of the nation’s busiest bridges, clustered in the nation’s metro areas, are rated as “structurally deficient,” using 2010 federal data.

“The poor condition of our bridges is a problem that is not going away,” said Andy Herrmann, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Most of the nation’s bridges were designed to last 50 years, and today, roughly a third are already 50 years or older.”

Transportation for America's 2011 report, titled, The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Bridges, recommends that Congress:

  • Provide states with increased resources to repair and rebuild bridges, because state governments need federal money to undertake such projects.
  • Ensure that funds sent to states for bridge repair aren't diverted but are actually used for that purpose (unless a state can show it has addressed its repair needs).
  • Expand modes of transport, meaning that new or rehabilitated bridges be built to accommodate people traveling not just in cars, but also by walking, bicycling, or using public transit.

Brooklyn's Historic Bridges in Fine Fettle or Already Being Repaired

In a nutshell, is it safe to use the "structurally deficient" Brooklyn Bridge?

Yes.

But maintenance is an on-going task. So, to make sure that it stays safe, concerned local citizens might let their elected officials know that funding is an important lifeline for the Brooklyn Bridge's maintenance — and that, in turn, the Brooklyn Bridge is an important lifeline for millions of New Yorkers, visitors, foreign tourists — and of course, Brooklynites.

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