CLEVELAND — It's the busiest bridge in Ohio. More than 180,000 vehicles a day, every day, crossing Valley View along Interstate 480.

All that traffic takes a toll. The price tag: $227 million and that’s just to replace the driving surfaces.

In Ohio, the 480 bridge is one of hundreds of bridges on the state’s “to-do” list and one of the myriad projects being funded by a gas tax increase that goes into effect July 1.

The new tax is expected to add $865 million to the state’s infrastructure budget. That’s still nearly $400 million less than Gov. Mike DeWine was seeking when he first proposed the tax increase.

“You can see some exposed rebar. You can see there are problems,” DeWine pointed out to The Investigator Tom Meyer.

Every year, Ohio’s infrastructure is inspected and graded. And every year, there have been red flags raised, crying out for help to the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

With more than 27,000 bridges statewide, and 4,383 in Northeast Ohio, it’s impossible for motorists to avoid low-graded bridges.

Engineers call them “structurally deficient” and there are 160 such bridges in Cuyahoga County.

“That doesn't mean they're going to fall down tomorrow. What it means is we darn well need to pay attention to it," DeWine said.

A bridge rated structurally deficient crosses over a busy section of south Cleveland, near the Broadway and Harvard intersection. Some drivers refuse to stop under the bridge for a red light, preferring to sit back and wait for fear of being struck by falling chunks of concrete.

"When you see a bridge rated as structurally deficient, it’s not surprising you can walk up and start pulling concrete away," DeWine said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation inspects and rates the state’s bridges. A zero gets a bridge shut down. A one or two rating means the structure is in dire need of repair.

Of Northeast Ohio’s nearly 4,400 bridges, there are 359 rated as “structurally deficient.”

One such bridge is a railroad overpass of North Rocky River Drive at Depot Street in Berea. Even to the casual inspector, the damage is striking. Holes and crumbling concrete earned the bride a two-rating.

Engineering groups concur with DeWine’s call for action. They say it’s imperative – and long overdue – for Ohio to address its ailing infrastructure.

“You're either going to have a Minneapolis or you'll have a bridge that collapses and kills a bunch of people,” said Cleveland State University engineering professor Dr. Stephen F. Duffy.

In 2007, a collapsed bridge in Minneapolis left 13 people dead.

Duffy said Ohio has waited 14 years to increase its fuel tax, a delay that has resulted in work not being performed and infrastructure worsening.

“By and large, we don't invest in any of our infrastructure,” Duffy said.

Every year, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association examines the quality of bridges in Ohio. Most recently, their research found about 1,600 Ohio bridges to be structurally deficient

Another civil engineers group gave Northeast Ohio roads and bridges low marks, a D+ overall.
“We rated poor and we're at risk,” said Ed Adamczyk, who authored the study for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Ohio’s gas tax will increase from 28 cents a gallon to 38.5 cents on July 1. The tax on diesel fuel will jump from 28 cents to 47 cents. For the average driver, that about $63 a year.