Aiken County ranks fourth among South Carolina’s 46 counties in the percentage of its bridges that are substandard, according to an annual report released recently by AAA Carolinas.

The 17th edition of the report ranked the 20 worst bridges in South Carolina, and while no Aiken County bridges were included, only Charleston, Lancaster and Edgefield counties had a higher percentage of substandard bridges.

Fifty-two of Aiken County’s 170 bridges – nearly 31 percent – are considered substandard, said AAA Carolinas public relations manager Tiffany Wright.

That’s considerably higher than the statewide rate. The report states that 21 percent of South Carolina’s more than 9,200 bridges are substandard.

AAA Carolinas created the ranking based on South Carolina Department of Transportation data, with emphasis on each bridge’s traffic volume.

The report states that bridges are classified as substandard under federal guidelines if they are structurally deficient, meaning they are in relatively poor condition and/or are inadequate to handle truck weight, or if they are functionally obsolete, which occurs when bridges have inadequate design for their traffic volume.

The report isn’t as worrying as it may sound, said SCDOT Bridge Maintenance Engineer Lee Floyd.

“It’s more like a flag that goes up that says you’ve got a problem here now or that you may have a problem,” Floyd said. “It helps you know that there’s a possibility of a problem so you can begin planning to take action about it.”

A bridge being listed as substandard doesn’t mean it’s bound to collapse or be closed down, said Floyd, who added that AAA “manipulated” raw DOT data with their own formula to come up with a ranking that doesn’t necessarily reflect DOT’s assessment.

SCDOT uses a much more sophisticated and scientific approach when evaluating its bridges, Floyd said.

South Carolina has the fourth-largest state maintained highway system in the country, but has struggled to maintain it.

The state’s 16-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, which makes up the majority of SCDOT funding, is among the lowest fuel taxes in the country. It hasn’t been changed or adjusted for inflation since 1987.

That makes South Carolina’s state highway funding per mile the lowest in the nation.

“This is really a nationwide issue, whether or not we’re putting sufficient funds into roads and bridges and water and sewers – public infrastructure that people are used to having,” said Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian.

Wright said the worst-rated Aiken County bridge is located in Graniteville where U.S. 1 crosses Horse Creek, and that the second-worst bridge, also in Graniteville, is where Ascauga Lake Road passes over the Graniteville Canal.

Other noticeable substandard bridges include the wooden ones on Union, Fairfield and York streets in downtown Aiken.

SCDOT district engineering administrator Jo Ann Woodrum said she isn’t concerned that the bridges are putting anyone in harm’s way, but she worries SCDOT doesn’t have the resources to keep pace with the maintenance the bridges need.

“We’re losing ground on our roads and bridges,” Woodrum said.

Floyd is optimistic relief is coming soon.

State lawmakers passed legislation called Act 98 last year that appropriated an extra $50 million to replace approximately 90 bridges in 33 counties, including five bridges in Aiken County. Floyd said there’s no timetable for getting those replacements, but that the department is working as fast as it can.

In the meantime, Floyd said Aiken County residents shouldn’t worry about the safety of their bridges, as long as they pay attention to weight restrictions on certain bridges.

“As long as people obey the current load restrictions, they’re perfectly safe,” he said.

Avery Wilks is an intern at the Aiken Standard. He is a senior at the University of South Carolina.