SEATTLE -- A reliable funding source that's helped make Washington's bridges safe from earthquakes is going away.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is only about one-third of the way along in its bridge seismic retrofit program.
In 2005, voters approved a 9.5 cent gas tax that generated $87 million just to retrofit bridges -- a steady stream of cash. But that cash flow ends in 2015. After that, experts will have to try and convince the legislature to finish the job.
"We're trying to keep the momentum going," says Jugesh Kapur, the state's bridge engineer.
The State of Washington began retrofitting vulnerable bridges in 1991, in the wake of the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake which rocked northern California on October 17, 1989. The quake was in part symbolized by collapsed and damaged bridges.
In Washington, 901 bridges were identified as vulnerable to earthquakes. Twenty-one years later, two-thirds of those bridges (629) are not considered quake ready and 487 have not been touched.
It's been a question of priorities and money. For example, many ramps to and from I-5 in Seattle are supported by a line of single vertical concrete columns, which makes them highly vulnerable to breaking and crumbling in an earthquake. As a high priority, those columns are now wrapped in steel jackets. Lesser, but still vulnerable sections of the freeway supported by two or more columns await retrofit, as they are not considered as dangerous.