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The Ina Road bridge in Pima County was deemed structurally unsound and will be replaced. Transportation officials credited Arizona's proactive approach to bridge maintenance for the relatively low number of unsound bridges in the state. (Cronkite News Service photo by Julia Tylor)

WASHINGTON - Arizona tied for third-best in the nation for the structural soundness of its bridges in 2011, with just 3 percent of bridges deemed structurally deficient, compared to to 11.5 percent nationwide.

The report by Transportation for America praised Arizona's proactive maintenance on its bridges. But the same group also gave high ratings for bridge soundness to Washington state, where a bridge collapsed into the Skagit River after being hit by a truck Thursday.

"Being on the bottom of the list doesn't mean something couldn't happen tomorrow in Arizona," said Steve Davis, a Transportation for America spokesman.

Davis said the Skagit River bridge collapse was just one incident that should not hurt Washington's reputation. The state ranked sixth-best in 2011 and Davis said Washington's structural deficiency rate is still among the nation's lowest.

So is Arizona's.

Even the worst-ranked counties in the state had deficient-bridge percentages that were about the same as the national average in 2011, said Davis' group. Nearly 12 percent of bridges in Apache County and 11 percent of Graham County bridges were deemed to be in need of closer monitoring or repair.

Maricopa County, meanwhile, had just 0.6 percent of its bridges in that category, according to the transportation advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The bridge that crashed into the Skagit River was considered functionally obsolete - the design of the bridge was obsolete, but not necessarily unsafe, Davis said. The 2011 report looked only at structural deficiency, or a bridge's need of repair or closer monitoring. For that reason, Davis said, "What happened in Washington had nothing to do with Arizona."

Arizona also fared well in 2012 in figures released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It said that 247 of the state's 7,835 bridges were structurally deficient, or 3.15 percent. That number included bridges maintained by state and local agencies.

Arizona's low numbers are a testament to its maintenance efforts, Davis said.

"If you take a bridge in good condition today and do maintenance proactively, it's better than after the fact," he said.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over 4,818 bridges in the state highway system, spends roughly $20 million a year on bridges, spokesman Doug Nintzel said.

"We're very proud of our program," said Nintzel, adding that only 95 of the 4,818 bridges are considered structurally deficient.

Both Nintzel and Davis said another reason Arizona bridges fare well is because of the dry climate and few freezing temperatures.

"We also use steel-reinforced concrete girders for our bridges," Nintzel said. "They tend to age very well."

Despite these efforts, there are still a significant number of bridges that need repair, Davis said.

"The goal is to be zero," he said.

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