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I-70 Reopens But Questions Persist About Bridge Safety

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Hellgren Mike 370x278 (2) Mike Hellgren
WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Right now, the Interstate 70 bridge is open after an emergency closure over the weekend. WJZ has new information on the fix and what’s being done to keep Maryland bridges safe.

Mike Hellgren got a rare look at the bridge on Monday.

The shutdown was immediate after a painting crew discovered a crack in a support beam on the I-70 bridge westbound over the Patapsco River, shutting it down for almost three days while crews put in steel plates to fix it.

“That defect we addressed by plating it. We did a lot of bolting and welding,” said SHA engineer Rod Thornton.

He insists it’s safe but some of the 100,000 people who travel it every day remain cautious.

“They should be very concerned because if that bridge goes, it’s going to be a long, long, long drop and there are going to be a lot of people hurt,” said driver Mike Galbraith.

WJZ has learned the bridge will undergo a full inspection later this year. It was never on the SHA’s list of structurally deficient bridges in Maryland, but 87 still are–down from 143 in 2006. One is in Harford County, two each are in Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties and 19 are in Baltimore County.

“We’ve been able to address a lot of these bridges and we’re seeing a trend that’s going to significantly decrease that number even more,” Thornton said.

Nationally, the picture is worse. One in nine bridges is structurally deficient.

“Since 1989, we’ve had nearly 600 bridge failures in this country,” said Barry LePatner, author of “Too Big to Fail.”

That includes a bridge in neighboring Delaware that closed last week after workers discovered its pillars tilting. Just like the situation on I-70, they were on an unrelated job when they noticed the problem.

“A large number of bridges in every state are really a danger to the traveling public,” said LePatner.

The federal government mandates that bridges be inspected every two years.

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