Larry Haler says the state needs to repair its bridges.
The Republican from Richland is one of 19 representatives pushing House Bill 2071, which would expedite the process of permitting and contracting work on bridges deemed "structurally deficient" -- including three in the Tri-City area.
A public hearing on the bill is scheduled today in Olympia as part of the House Committee on Transportation's first meeting of the new legislative session. Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, is another sponsor.
"I really believe that we need to take care of the infrastructure that we have right now," Haler said. "We need to repair these bridges before we start ... raising new money."
In Benton County, the 58-year-old Columbia River Bridge at Umatilla is awaiting repairs to its bridge deck. In Franklin County, a similar steel truss bridge crossing the Snake River requires superstructure repairs.
Both bridges are similar to the Skagit River Bridge, a portion of which collapsed last May after an oversized-load truck struck it, causing damage to sway struts and trusswork. The bridge wasn't listed as structurally deficient at the time, but rather "functionally obsolete."
"We were lucky," said Haler of the Skagit River incident. "If the water level had been a little higher, or the car that was driving across there had been just a little bit earlier or a little bit later ... there would have been a fatality."
The Highway 22 bridge over Interstate 82 near Prosser is also on the list.
The Court Street bridge over Highway 395 in Pasco used to be on the list after it was damaged in January 2011 when construction equipment on a semi-truck struck the bridge's support girders. Months later, repairs were made at an estimated cost of $650,000.
"Structurally deficient" means a bridge "requires repair or replacement of a certain component," according to the state Department of Transportation. This includes cracked or chipped concrete, as well as damage to a bridge deck, its support structures, or even the entire bridge. It does not imply a bridge is unsafe or in danger of collapse.
Currently, 134 bridges are deemed structurally deficient by the state -- that's 22 fewer than in 2011.
Haler sees the bill as part of a transportation reform issue, and more reforms may negate the need to raise taxes, he said.
"We've really got to manage our money better in the transportation department," he said.
-- Matt Benoit: 509-947-9277; email@example.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_