Are Hawaii's Bridges Safe?

Douglas Chew
Douglas Chew
Brennon Morioka
Brennon Morioka

WINDWARD OAHU (KHNL) -- Dozens of people are still missing in Minneapolis after the deadly bridge collapse, and Thursday night, crews at the scene of the Minneapolis bridge collapse have shifted their efforts from rescue to recovery.

Dozens of emergency officials could still be seen at the bridge Thursday evening, 24 hours after it collapsed.

By that time, four people had been confirmed dead but recovery crews expect to find dozens more.

They said they have spotted bodies in the water, and as many as 30 people are still reported missing.

"These are horrible images but within each of these images is a story," said R.T. Ryback, Minneapolis mayor. "That car you see hanging in the wreckage is someone's cousin or brother or husband and one story after the other unfolds."

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are on scene trying to figure out what caused the bridge to fail. The chairman of the NTSB said a review of the nation's bridge inspection program is in order, in light of the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

And locally, the question on people's minds is, could something like that happen here?

KHNL posed that question to state officials, but first, we looked at some numbers. Nationally about 26 percent of all bridges -- like the Minneapolis bridge -- are deemed "structurally deficient."

Here in Hawaii, it's about half that at 14 percent, and the Department of Transportation assures us, our bridges are safe.

Eleven hundred bridges help transport hundreds of thousands of Hawaii commuters. They range from high capacity bridges like the H-3 to small two-lane bridges.

Tuesday night's Minneapolis bridge collapse has a ripple effect all the way to our shores. Windward resident Douglas Chew said he's concerned.

"We have a lot of heavy equipment that passes on these bridges here, and the bridges are really small here," he said.

The Minneapolis bridge is made of steel. Most Hawaii bridges are made of concrete, and they're managed by the Department of Transportation.

"We have had a significant retrofit program around the state, and we focused on our multi-span bridges as well as our high traffic bridges, and those are the ones we focus on first and have the highest priority," said Brennon Morioka, the deputy director for the Department of Transportation.

The DOT spends more than $25 million each year to keep Hawaii bridges safe. Some of that money goes to replacing guardrails on this Ka'a'awa bridge.

And further up in Ha'ula, a bigger retrofitting project; this time replacing an entire bridge.

Crews finished making the Kokololio bridge less prone to flooding. Now they're fixing the road. The DOT said it's part of an on-going effort aimed at managing our bridges. And residents breathe a bit easier, next time they hit the road.

"With the bridges and gates they're putting up, it'll help people stay out of danger," said Chew.

Of those Hawaii bridges that are "structurally deficient," most are one-lane bridges in rural areas. The DOT said they're functional for the time being because the maximum weight allowed has been lowered.