Heavy vehicles using crumbling Wayne Co. bridges despite weight limits

PLYMOUTH, Mich. (WXYZ) - Crumbling concrete and rusted steel: Some Wayne County bridges are in such bad shape, they’ve had to be blocked off or weight restrictions are now in place.

But no one seems to be enforcing those rules.

“People’s safety is at risk,” said Stephanie Allard, who bikes over the bridges regularly. 

She wants them fixed.

After a recent bridge inspection revealed some serious structural concerns, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) told Wayne County in April to shut down several of the Hines Drive bridges.

On many of the bridges, the concrete is crumbling and rusting reinforcement bars are showing through; that means these 86-year-old bridges may not be safe.

“That can be breakdown that’s associated with age, associated with essentially environmental effect like changing of temperature from winter to summer,” said University of Michigan Engineering Professor Jerome Lynch.

While MDOT (on behalf of the federal government) has the final say over all bridges in the state, Wayne County is responsible for inspecting their 232 bridges. During the Hines Drive closures,  MDOT did a detailed analysis of the bridges and then told Wayne County’s Department of Public Services they could re-open them – but only with posted weight restrictions.

“When it was closed on that side for a while, I thought ‘oh good – they’re finally going to do some repairs.’  And then it was open a few weeks later, so it does make me nervous,” said Gina Ebener, who walks her dog often near the bridges.

So who’s enforcing those weight restrictions for the bridges?

The 7 Investigators saw school buses, box trucks, and even Wayne County’s own heavy trucks with equipment loaded on trailers blowing past the weight limit signs.

County officials claim the Wayne County weighmaster checks the bridges several times a week. But during multiple days of shooting video, we never saw anyone checking the bridges.

Despite repeated requests for an interview with members of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans' DPS staff, county spokeswoman Whitney Lewis refused to let us talk to them on camera about the bridges.

“There’s a problem there,” said Wayne County Commissioner Joe Barone (R-Plymouth). He also wants answers.

“The last thing we want as a county is to have one of these structures fall in,” Barone told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.  “If we have anybody: my family, your family, any family that’s involved and we have a structural give-out -- we have a problem.”

MDOT has $48 million available for counties and cities across Michigan to request repairs for their most critical bridges, but in the last few years, requests totaling $300 million have been submitted.  There isn’t enough of that state money to go around.

Wayne County’s DPS has spent $4.5 million on bridge projects in the last year – but clearly more must be done.

“This is my number one issue in District 10.  Infrastructure is the key, so we have to address it,” said Barone.  The Plymouth-Canton Republican passed a resolution earlier this year urging state lawmakers to fund road repairs.

“Definitely a safety concern-- it really is,” said Wayne, who did not want to give his last name.

As a Wayne County taxpayer, he says he’s fed up with the push for regional transit.  He just wants the roads and bridges that he uses every day to finally be fixed.

“They’re letting everything, excuse the expression, go to hell.  And I’d like to know what they’re doing with our tax money,” said Wayne.

Despite the fact that that we’ve been communicating with Wayne County since April about these bridges, they would not sit down with the 7 Investigators for an interview.

Here are some of their emailed responses to various questions we posed:

Why are the bridges on Hines Drive closed?

These bridges were closed for a scheduled detailed in-depth inspection and were deemed acceptable to be re-opened from the findings of that inspection with enforced weight restrictions. These bridges will be consistently monitored by local police and our internal engineering teams to ensure safety and weight restrictions are followed. The current weight restrictions allows for most pedestrian vehicles and all walkers and cyclists to cross.

What happens when a bridge is rated poor?

Ratings-Good, Fair, Poor, Critical, Zero (10 levels of integrity)-three ratings after poor
When a bridge is rated poor- DPS prioritizes structures rated as “poor” and evaluates for rehabilitations and reconstruction

What’s the budget for DPS?

The overall budget for the Wayne County Department of Public Services for fiscal year 2017-2018 is $307,463,206.00 ( FY 16-17 was a little over $309M). The department consists of eight divisions.
What’s the budget for bridge inspections?

$4.5 million has been spent on bridge projects (maintenance and construction work from June 1, 2017 to June 13, 2018) from the overall budget. A little over $1.2M was spent on our hired bridge consultants from 2017-2018 which includes bridge inspection work.

How many people currently do bridge inspections?

Internally, we have two employees qualified to inspect and advise on our bridges. Along with these employees, we have bridge consultants (total of 8 companies) that analyze, inspect and offer recommendations on bridge improvements/maintenance work as needed.

Who’s enforcing the weight restrictions on the bridges?

Our bridge consultants along with our internal designated staff make the determination for weight restrictions for the bridges. DPS is responsible for posting the new weight restrictions, closures and detours (signage) and notifying city/township leadership of changes and putting out public announcement. DPS works with city/township officials to coordinate enforcement of the weight restrictions through local police monitoring.

7 Investigators:

MDOT says it’s the county’s responsibility to enforce the weight restrictions (the 7 Investigators saw no evidence of anyone enforcing weight limits on several days between April and June). Why aren’t you enforcing these weight restrictions?

Wayne County:

  • Before/when a bridge is posted for a reduced weight capacity, notification will go out to the community (fire, police and emergency service). This notification is for awareness and to alert the police department to monitor.
  • The Wayne County weighmaster (1 person) also checks the posted bridges multiple times per week spending additional time at the bridges that carries more traffic.
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