By Jim Holt
Senior Investigative Reporter
Public works inspectors are taking a close look at more than 130 bridges in the Santa Clarita Valley over the next couple of months as county supervisors aggressively pursue a piece of the $1 trillion funding available under the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion directing the director of Public Works to assess bridge infrastructure and then come up with a plan and recommendation to obtain state and federal infrastructure funding.
The board is expected to review that assessment in 60 days.
Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion, cited the recent bridge collapse in Pittsburgh as reason to get moving on the pursuit of bridge assessment in Los Angeles County.
On Jan. 28, the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed, injuring 10 people.
“The collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh serves as a reminder of the importance of timely maintenance, repair and the replacement of our bridge infrastructure,” Barger told the board Tuesday.
“We know that these types of improvement need to be done and need to be done to protect public safety,” she said. “There is hope that infrastructure funding will be available shortly and we need to ready to fight for this and to make sure that we have the data and the need to support the funding.”
In November, more than $1 trillion became available to fix infrastructure across the United States when President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law.
The legislation specifically sets aside $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is the lead agency for inspecting and maintaining 287 county-owned and partially county-owned bridges.
Public Works is also responsible for inspecting an additional 823 city-owned bridges countywide, for an inspection total of 1,110 bridges identified in the National Bridge Inventory.
“A report on the status of the bridges is still being compiled in accordance with the board motion,” Public Works spokesman Steve Frasher said Wednesday.
The Los Angeles County road maintenance districts that cover the Santa Clarita Valley area have a total of about 131 bridges — 62 within the city of Santa Clarita and 69 in unincorporated county area.
The city of Santa Clarita owns and is responsible for the bridges in its jurisdiction.
Barger and Hahn reminded fellow supervisors Tuesday that most of the county’s bridges were built in the 1950s and ‘60s, and about 20% of them are in need of rehabilitation or replacement.
Public Works estimates that $2.2 billion is needed to repair or replace the bridge infrastructure under both county and city jurisdictions in the inspection program.
Reflecting on the Pittsburgh bridge collapse, Hahn said: “We want to make sure none of our bridges collapse next, so with this motion we’re asking our Director of Public Works Mark Pestrella to provide us an assessment of all the bridges under the county’s oversight. Most importantly, to identify the most dangerous and come back with a plan to get state and federal funding to quickly begin those repairs.”
“None of our county bridges are in immediate danger of collapsing like the one in Pittsburgh. There is still work to be done and he believes we must move quickly while infrastructure (funding) is still available,” Hahn said.
In background shared by Barger and Hahn with the rest of the board, they pointed out that the Fern Hollow Bridge was a 50-year-old structure that carried about 14,000 vehicles a day and was considered in “poor condition” by the Federal Highway Administration.
Barger and Hahn also cited data compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers that found 42% of bridges across the country are more than a half-century old, and nearly 8% of them, about 45,000 bridges, are considered structurally deficient.
In written comments submitted to supervisors from the public, one woman wrote: “I’m glad to see this motion and that the board is considering taking action on assessing the structural soundness of the numerous bridges throughout L.A. County.”
A man also wrote to the board, saying: “We have a huge surplus in California. We need to use that money already allocated from the gas tax for these repairs. Stop the scam bullet train.”