"Our inspection program is pretty good," Walker said. "Let's not forget the reason that we have it in this country is because of a bridge in West Virginia that collapsed."
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 952, or 13 percent, of West Virginia's 7,100 bridges are structurally deficient. Walker said any overpasses more than 20 feet in length are considered bridges in West Virginia.
"A high percentage of our bridges are over 50 years old, and so it doesn't surprise us that we have such a high number of deficient bridges," Walker said. "It doesn't mean they're unsafe. It just means they're up in age."
Some repairs are aesthetic, and weight limits can be reduced to as low as 2 tons as an alternative before bridges have to be closed for repairs. The DOH replaces aging bridges when it can afford to, but will make repairs and maintain bridges when possible to make them last longer, he said.
"If they get too bad, we'll close them," Walker said. "We're not putting vehicles on unsafe bridges. We have a fairly aggressive bridge program that we go and attack the best we can. The bridges that need it, for the most part we're practicing triage. A lot of times, it's a funding issue as well."
Walker said the department works with a budget of about $130 million, including $100 million from the federal government, for state bridge projects.
A report released earlier this year by the Washington-based coalition Transportation for America ranked West Virginia as 14th worst among the states in the percentage of structure deficient bridges, though that was an improvement from the previous two years.
The coalition's report found that 36 percent of Pocahontas County's 98 bridges and 26 percent of Marshall County's 82 bridges were deficient, the highest percentages in the state. Bridges in Webster, Gilmer and Braxton counties had the lowest deficiency rates.