The U.S. 67 bridge spanning Pope Creek in Mercer County turned 82 years old this year.
It carries about 2,700 vehicles per day and is deficient, according to an annual report by Transportation for America.
The bridge is among 19 of the 166 bridges in the county identified as deficient, and Mercer County Engineer Jimmy Samaniego says area motorists should take note.
"There is a problem here," Samaniego said. "And it's a significant problem that needs to be addressed."
Samaniego says of the 31 bridges under his jurisdiction, 10 are deemed deficient, and he'll be lucky to have enough funding to replace one bridge every three years.
The problem of deteriorating bridges is not just in Mercer County. In a 10-county area in west-central Illinois, 282 bridges are deemed deficient, with 54 of those in Peoria County, 46 in Livingston County and 41 in Knox County. As a whole, the region accounts for roughly 8.1 percent of the state's 2,311 deficient structures.
Deteriorating bridges are a crisis looming across the nation, said David Goldberg, communications director for Transportation for America.
"This is a major problem," Goldberg said. "The system is failing us."
The report his organization compiles is released annually and examines inspections of the nation's 66,000 structures.
Inspections are performed by state and local agencies on a one- to two-year rotating schedule depending on the structure's age and traffic, and engineers rate three main component parts of a bridge: the deck, the superstructure and the substructure.
Each component is given a rating on a scale of 0-9 based on its condition. A bridge with one part scoring 4 or below is labeled deficient, at which time a weight restriction for vehicles is posted.
While local agencies are responsible for a number of bridge inspections, Illinois Department of Public Transportation spokeswoman Paris Ervin says IDOT closely monitors inspections. She points out that 92 percent of Illinois' 26,000 bridges are in acceptable or better condition.
Still, county engineers see a problem.
"I'm not really concerned about any of them falling down in the near future," Samaniego said. "But we need major repairs."
Tazewell County engineer John Anderson agrees.
The report identifies 9.6 percent of bridges in Tazewell County as deficient, and one of the county's worst structures is a portion of Illinois 116 over Ten Mile Creek, built in 1953 and carrying roughly 9,250 cars per day. As of an inspection this past June, the bridge received a deck and superstructure rating of 3.
While bridge collapses due to poor conditions are rare, Anderson said area motorists and residents need to understand the gravity and depth of the problem.
Page 2 of 2 - Weather conditions, vehicle weight and traffic volume contribute to wear and tear on the region's bridges.
"The general population needs to understand its infrastructure is failing," Anderson said.
"Bridges wear out," Anderson added. "You have to constantly maintain them."
Anderson said he's not optimistic about the possibility for improvement given how little attention is placed on bridge conditions by lawmakers and the public — although he feels the regional outlook is better.
IDOT plans to repair or replace 226 bridges in 2014, including replacements of bridges on Illinois 8 over Kickapoo Creek in Peoria County and the aforementioned Ten Mile Creek bridge in Tazewell County and Pope Creek bridge in Mercer County. Yet, the Transportation for America report finds Illinois among 15 states where the number of deficient bridges has increased since 2011.
Even though Goldberg concedes some progress has been made in recent years in shoring up failing bridges — IDOT says more than 1,200 bridges have been repaired or rebuilt since 2009 — he maintains there's still much to be done.
"The system is aging so quickly," Goldberg said.
Many bridges in the area's network were built in the 1950s and 1960s, explained Goldberg, and are reaching the end of their service all at once.
"The more deteriorated they are, the faster they deteriorate," he said. "A lot of bridges are coming to a head at the same time, and many regions are definitely scrambling."