South Carolina's recent decision to funnel $50 million toward repairing and replacing bridges already has paid off.

Substandard bridges

Of the state's 20 most substandard bridges, six are in Charleston County, including:

Rank Bridge Year built

3 I-26 bridge over Cosgrove Boulevard 1964

6 I-26 bridge over Midland Park Road 1964

7 Savannah Highway bridge over CSX Railroad line 2005

8 Burnet R. Maybank Bridge (Wappoo Cut) 1956

15 S.C. Highway 7 bridge over the Ashley River 1953

17 U.S. Highway 17-North drawbridge over Ashley River 1961

Of the top 20 substandard S.C. bridges:

Average age 56

Average daily traffic count 51,713

Number now being replaced or rehabbed 4

Source: AAA Carolinas

The state's percentage of substandard bridges now stands at 21 percent, down from 23 percent during the two previous years, according to a AAA Carolinas survey released Wednesday.

Tiffany Wright, a AAA spokeswoman, said that might not sound like much change, "but it really does make a dent in the big picture."

Six of the state's top 20 substandard bridges - as measured by structural condition and traffic volume -are found in Charleston County. That's down from seven Charleston County bridges on last year's Top 20 list: the recent replacement of U.S. Highway 17 overpass in Mount Pleasant caused it to drop off the list.

Still, one of Charleston's bridges is only nine years old: the U.S. Highway 17 bridge over the CSX railroad line.

"While age is important, it doesn't necessarily equate to good or bad," Wright said. "That bridge ... is listed as functionally obsolete which means its current design isn't adequate for the current traffic volume which is an average of 75,500 vehicles per day."

The annual survey -which is based on data from state highway departments and AAA's analysis - has been done for 17 years to draw attention to the condition of the nation's bridges and the need to pay for their ongoing maintenance.

As for the most substandard bridges, Wright said, "We're not saying these bridges are going to fall down. We're not saying they're not safe. ... We're saying they could (have problems) if they are not addressed."

About 1,828 of South Carolina's 9,200 bridges are considered substandard, but the state still ranked better than some of its neighbors. About 31 percent of North Carolina's bridges were deemed substandard, while 26 percent of Virginia's bridges also were.

The national average was 24 percent, but both Georgia (17 percent) and Florida (16 percent) ranked near the top.

David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, noted while South Carolina is a poorer state than North Carolina, South Carolina has done a better job maintaining its roads and bridges.

"But more funding is needed to continue South Carolina's bridge infrastructure revival," he said.

The need for more road and bridge funding is expected to be one of the top issues in next year's legislative session, and South Carolina's gubernatorial hopefuls already have clashed over road funding plans. The state hasn't raised its gas tax since 1987, and it's one of the nation's lowest.

Still, the state recently shifted money to work on about one fourth of the state's load-restricted bridges -and its improved AAA rating reflects that change. The S.C. Department of Transportation has estimated that about 90 of these bridges will be replaced during the next two to three years.

Department of Transportation director Janet Oakley said these replacements will improve safety and help end detours for trucks in the affected communities.

While Charleston County has recently had strong political clout in Columbia in recent years, its bridges are in the worst shape. Forty-seven percent of them are substandard, more than any other county, according to AAA.

Other counties with a high percentage of substandard bridges include: Lancaster (40 percent), Edgefield (33 percent) and Aiken (31 percent).

Those counties with the lowest percentage of substandard bridges include: Calhoun (3 percent), Florence (8 percent), Hampton (11 percent) and Williamsburg (12 percent).

States regularly inspect their bridges' physical conditions to see if they can handle truck weight and current traffic volumes.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.