Memphis bridge’s closing begs a question: Are Tennessee Valley bridges inspected enough?

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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. — Head engineer Greg Bodley says inspectors have to take each bridge — big or small, old or new — seriously every time.

“At a minimum you have to do (inspections) every two years,” Bodley said, referring to average bridges under Morgan County’s control.

The sudden closing of the I-40 bridge on the Mississippi River due to neglected aging cracks sounded alarms of America’s infrastructure situation, especially on bridges, of which the Tennessee Valley has plenty.

“Here, it would be very difficult for that to happen,” Bodley said. “On a Morgan County bridge, I would say nearly impossible.”

Bodley said he’s confident that his team’s inspections are thorough and cover each part of a bridge, including looking underground.

Tony Harris with the Alabama Department of Transportation said engineers across the state have that same attitude and work ethic.

“Every bridge is inspected at least every two years, and maybe some of our older bridges are inspected annually,” Harris said. “And we have a very significant track record of taking corrective action when it’s needed.”

For larger ones like Keller and Steamboat Bill Memorial Bridges, state and federal engineers handle the inspections.

For bridges nearing the end of their lifespan, funding programs like Rebuild Alabama hope to help.

“We are required to fund some local programs that help with bridge replacement, that help with local needs, and we’re seeing some of that new money go toward bridges in local communities,” Harris said.

And that, Bodley says, can ensure Morgan County residents don’t have anything to worry about.

“The emphasis on the program is pretty strong. I mean, we take it very serious, because you don’t want anything to happen,” Bodley said. “I mean, you can have a catastrophe if a bridge fails. And we want to avoid that at all cost.”

Numbers from the latest American Road and Transportation Builders Association report show that none of Alabama’s most-traveled, deficient bridges were in north Alabama.

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