LANSING — Warnings about Michigan’s failing infrastructure appeared to come true Wednesday when a chunk of concrete fell from a 54-year-old bridge, crashed through a windshield and struck the driver in the head.
The 38-year-old Jackson woman was rushed to a hospital for treatment after the 8 a.m. incident on US-127 about 15 miles south of Lansing. Her injuries are not life threatening, according to the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department, which announced the single-car crash Thursday.
The bridge — the Barnes Road overpass on US-127 near Mason — is among a series of local spans already set for rehabilitation under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recently announced $3.5 billion bonding initiative.
The crossing is not among the 447 Michigan bridges rated in serious or critical condition. It was rated in fair condition when last inspected in June 2018 but is scheduled to “undergo major rehab,” said Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the state’s transportation department.
Built in 1966, the Barnes Road overpass “is not the worst bridge out there,” said Greg Losch, manager of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Lansing transportation service center.
Indeed, roughly 10 percent of Michigan’s 11,100 bridges are rated poor to failing, the 10th highest rate in the nation and far higher than other Great Lakes states. In 2018, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the state infrastructure as a D+, calling it “old and outdated.”
Crews last performed preventative maintenance on the Barnes Road bridge in 2014. In its most recent rating, the substructure of the bridge was rated in good condition with minor problems and the span was considered structurally sound, according to April 2019 data from the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The bridge was due for another state inspection in June, but Wednesday’s incident brought inspectors to the scene that day. They found additional concrete “that had basically come unbound for the steel it was attached to” and appeared ready to fall, Losch said.
The department also inspected other bridges along the US-127 and next week plans to install plywood on the underside of the Barnes Road overpass to catch any future falls.
“We are very upset about the situation and wish (the injured driver) a speedy and full recovery,” Losch said.
As announced last month, Whitmer plans to borrow money by selling bonds to finance 49 highway reconstruction and rehabilitation projections. The department has said the funding will allow it to accelerate 74 other rehabilitation projects already in the pipeline.
The Barnes Road overpass is part of a 12-structure rehabilitation project planned for US-127 between the Jackson County line and M-36 near Mason.
The project is expected to cost $3 million and be completed by 2023, according to an MDOT list unveiled Jan. 30. But work could begin before then, officials said Thursday.
Separately, bonding will pay for a $50 million road rehabilitation project along the same stretch of US-127. That work is expected to begin in 2022.
Whitmer unveiled the bonding initiative during her State of the State address, vowing to sidestep a Republican-led Legislature that last year took no action on her proposal to fund state and local road repairs by raising fuel taxes by 45 cents per gallon.
GOP lawmakers have criticized the Democratic governor’s new financing plan because of long-term borrowing costs — repaying the $3.5 billion bonds will likely cost the state more than $5 billion after interest — and because it will not fix local roads.
Whitmer has challenged the Legislature to propose a concrete alternative.
It’s the latest in a series of similar incidents across the state, including concrete that flew off a bridge and struck a car in Southgate in 2017 and chunks that struck Metro Detroit vehicles on Interstate 696 in 2018.
Nonetheless, state officials said Wednesday’s incident is rare for the region.
“I’ve been with the department 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve heard of somebody being injured by concrete in this area around Lansing,” Losch said.
Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed