The PJ Tatler

Obama Caught 'Over-Suggesting' Risk of North Carolina Bridge Collapses

Over-suggesting.” That’s how the North Carolina newspaper that looked into the president’s latest dishonest scaremonger actually puts it. Would a Republican get a similarly charitable reaction when caught out trying to terrify people into supporting a bill?

President Barack Obama scared some of us last week when he stopped in Raleigh to pitch his American Jobs Act.

He told an audience at N.C. State University that the nation should beef up spending to repair bad bridges – before one of them falls on us.

“In North Carolina alone, there are 153 structurally deficient bridges that need to be repaired,” Obama said Wednesday. “Four of them are near here, on or around the Beltline. Why would we wait to act until another bridge falls?”

Terry Duff called The News & Observer to ask where these dangerous bridges are, so his family can avoid them. Other readers wondered whether there really was cause for alarm.

“Was this merely political hokum used in an attempt to push his new jobs bill or is it a fact?” Edward G. O’Connor wrote in a letter published Friday in The N&O’s People’s Forum.

DOT engineers and administrators are fielding calls about the president’s remarks, too. They say the bridges around the Beltline and across the state are safe.

Obama appears to have undercounted his bridges. And at the same time – employing the deft spin that political speakers use when they spice up a little information to make a big impression – the president may have over-suggested the risk to public safety.

Under federal guidelines, DOT inspectors examine each of North Carolina’s 17,000 bridges at least once every two years. It turns out about 2,700 bridges – not 153 – are rated below federal standards as “structurally deficient.” Seven of them are on Raleigh’s Beltline.


The Federal Highway Administration applies that scary-sounding label to thousands of bridges across the nation. It basically means the bridge needs careful maintenance and repair to stay in service, and eventually it will have to be rehabilitated or replaced – or closed.

“Structurally deficient doesn’t necessarily mean that they are dangerous,” said Tom Crosby, spokesman for the Charlotte-based AAA Carolinas motor club, which lobbies for more money to replace old bridges. “If these bridges were dangerous, they would close them down and immediately begin work on them.”

Each bridge is graded with a sufficiency rating that gives a 55 percent weight to its structural condition. The score, on a 1-to-100 scale, also includes factors unrelated to safety or structural quality.

One reason the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet has a low rating of 4 is that there is no convenient detour option. DOT awarded a $216 million contract this summer to replace the deteriorating bridge, and it will spend millions more on maintenance before the new one is ready in 2015.

DOT’s bridge inspection reports are public records. The agency publishes lists of bridge ratings and other information online at

Late Monday, a White House aide said Obama’s numbers had come from statistics – which appeared to be incomplete – on deficient federal highways in North Carolina. And if Obama’s numbers were squishy, DOT’s information was marred by omissions and errors, too.

>So, the president shouldn’t be running around using squishy statistics to terrify people and push his “shovel ready” pile of spending demands.