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Where Are Cook County's 162 Structurally Deficient Bridges?

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Feb 14, 2013 9:30PM

The crumbling undercarriage of the Western Avenue viaduct. Photo Credit: Gabriel X Michael

As we were rumbling over Western Avenue's crumbling viaduct over Belmont Avenue, we were reminded of President Barack Obama's mention of the nation's 70,000 "structurally deficient" bridges in the State of the Union address Tuesday.

"Tonight, I propose a 'Fix-It-First' program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country," Pres. Obama said in the address.

Jon Stewart showed the appropriate response to that news Wednesday when he said Obama should've delivered a speech by shouting, "The bridges are death traps! For the next three hours, I'm just going to stand here and name bridges." Stephen Colbert sounded off on it, too, joking that you might want to avoid the death traps by driving around the Mississippi River... all the way through Canada.

A 2011 report by Transportation for America compiled data on structurally deficient bridges across the country [PDF]. Compared to the rest of the country, Illinois is doing relatively well, coming in 35th place with 8.5 percent of bridges structurally deficient. For comparison, Pennsylvania tops the list with 26.5 percent of bridges being deficient.

In 2011, Cook County had 162 structurally deficient bridges, 9.9 percent of its total 1,641 bridges. On average, 3,412,408 cars pass over Cook County's deficient bridges each year. Use Transportation for America's map to find deficient structures near you. As this list is a bit out of date, let us know in the comments if you know of ones that have been fixed since the report was published.

Intersection concept for Belmont/Western/Clybourn. Image from CDOT.
Our least favorite bridge in Chicago is the lumpy, crumbly Western Avenue viaduct. Transportation for America hates it, too, and the viaduct was featured in their Illinois report. The eyesore is due to be torn down soon.

The viaduct is constantly costing the city money on patches and repairs, fixing falling concrete and potholes. The overpass is more than 50 years old, and it was originally build to increase access to Riverview Park, the amusement park which closed in 1967.

In 2011, the Chicago Department of Transportation released a plan [PDF] to tear down the viaduct and change the Western-Belmont-Clybourn mess into a regular street-level intersection, with extra space dedicated to a third lane to alternate between parking and rush-hour traffic.

That 2011 report shows construction slated to start in 2013, but we were unable to find more recent information confirming the start date was still on-target. Inquiries to the Chicago Department of Transportaion and Ald. Scott Waguespeck (32nd) were not returned.

Watch Stewart's rant below, with talk of bridges starting around the two-minute mark.