Boaters Raise Questions Over N.J. Bridge Safety; DOT Says Safe

Some local boaters are raising questions about cracks in a heavily traveled New Jersey bridge. They e-mailed the NBC 10 Investigators when they said they didn't get answers from the Department of Transportation.

The NBC 10 Investigators made such a fuss about getting the bridge inspected it has been inspected several times in the last week. The New Jersey Department of Transportation insisted after a final inspection Wednesday it is safe and sound, but NBC 10's Lu Ann Cahn wanted to show what boaters made her aware of.

The Pennsauken Creek Bridge on Route 73 looks fine from above but the view from below, that many people don't see every day, is a little different.

"It's kinda scary to come under it everyday," a local boater said.

It's hard to say just how deep a large crack is in the bridge abutment but crumbling concrete was everywhere, he said.

"It definitely needs to be repaired, that's for sure," the boater said.

The NJDOT said not to worry. Wednesday's inspection was much like the June 2007 inspection and despite what it looks like the report said the bridge is safe. The report said the structure carrying a heavy load of truck traffic day in and day out is stable, not structurally sound.

What was not explained is why the bridge is given a rating of only 41.8 points out of a hundred. To give a comparison, the Minnesota bridge that failed last August was rated a 50 and structurally unsound before it collapsed killing 13 people.

"This is very serious. This is one of the worst I've seen seriously," Bill Schutt, a corrosion expert, said.

NBC 10 took video to a well-respected corrosion expert, a man who consults with governments about roads and buildings all over the world.

"That's not a crack, that's a gulf," Schutt said.

But Schutt said the areas around the supports are the biggest concern.

"When large humps of concrete are falling off, when you have that gap there, if that's due to corrosion that's huge. When you have the barrings rusted you're at a very serious stage of corrosion. Concrete is falling away. Concrete is falling away from where the very bridge rests on its barrings," Schutt said.

Schutt said he believes testing beyond a visual inspection must be done.

"I would be very, very concerned about the bridge," he said.

NBC 10 also took video to New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews.

"I think the state needs to get someone out there immediately," Andrews said.

The DOT assured Andrews and the NBC 10 Investigators we would see inspectors at the bridge. They first arrived last week unprepared to get under the bridge and they took some still pictures and looked at the NBC 10 video.

Meanwhile, the 2007 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives New Jersey's Bridge Repair and Funding Program the grade of D. The state said Pennsauken Creek Bridge is one of 128 in New Jersey rated at 50 or below.

A DOT spokesperson said insisted Pennsauken Creek Bridge is structurally safe. But we were not told what kind of testing was done Wednesday. A Pennsauken boater said all he knows is he passes under other bridges on the creek and none of them look like the Pennsauken Creek Bridge.

"I don't know there's something about it I don't like it," the boater said.

The DOT said it will knock off some crumbling concrete so it doesn't hit boaters in the head, otherwise NBC 10 is told no repairs are needed.

New Jersey Assemblyman Louis Greenwald said there's millions more in the budget this year for bridge repair and he too has been assured the Pennsauken Creek Bridge is safe.

Check out the U.S. Department of Transportation's website to see a list of Deficient Bridges by State and Highway System.

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