As Christian Tridon, President of the National Union of Special Contractors for the Repair and Strengthening of Engineering Structures* told Sputnik, "It doesn't mean that all France's bridges are going to collapse tomorrow. However, if we don't do anything, we're approaching an obvious disaster."
The recent audit, requested by the French government, shows that one of three bridges on France's national highways needs repair. The report says that in the long term 840 of the bridges, or 7 percent, may even collapse.
"France has 200,000 road bridges for a million kilometers of roads. Only 12,000 bridges which are paid for by the national government are included in the report. The others are the responsibility of local authorities, mayors and departments."
"I agree with the estimate of 7%, but it must be extrapolated to the total number, or 7% of the 200,000 road bridges in France. So, we don't get 840, but 14,000 dangerous bridges. If we do nothing, the situation will become even worse."
Dominique Bussereau, former Secretary of State for Transport, also President of the Assembly of the French Departments, notes that in recent years, €700 million has been spent annually on infrastructure maintenance, whereas 1.3 billion would be needed. A solution for Dominique Bussereau lies in the restoration of the eco-tax, which had been eliminated by Ségolène Royal, which allowed for users to be changed for the bridges' maintenance.
"The tax would help finance the repair of the structures. As part of the National Federation of Public Works Construction, we expected €800 million per year from this eco-tax. The tax was abolished. You can see the result of this — Alsace is stifled by the transit of foreign trucks which is a direct result of the introduction of the eco-tax by Germany, unlike France. I believe that the environmental tax should be introduced and used to repair bridges."
Elisabeth Borne, Minister of Transport, stressed the "importance of regular maintenance of French bridges," and emphasized her commitment to present at the start of the school year a bill of infrastructure programming. However, this statement raises some concern as the ministerial audit specifies that a bridge "is repaired only 22 years after the first damages appear."
"Maintaining the condition of bridges is not just a financing problem. It's necessary to involve public opinion. Twenty years ago, there were special departments of the Departmental Directorate of Equipment (DDE) in France. Today, the mayor is the only one who is responsible for the state of the civil works.
"The mayor must have specific information about ‘his' bridge. If he doesn't have sufficient funds for a professional investigation, he must contact the department or the State. If the mayor has serious doubts about the state of the bridge, he must mobilize the political will and decide to close it to traffic." "Nothing will happen to the stone bridges. In extreme cases, a flood may wash a support bar. Metal bridges rust, they are regularly cleaned and painted, just like the Eiffel Tower. The reinforced-concrete bridges are our main concern. They are also prone to corrosion; moreover, you may not notice the internal rusting structure ‘tearing' the concrete. Therefore, it's necessary to introduce a ‘Bridge Maintenance Log' in France; we don't have such a document today. In this ‘book of health' of the infrastructure, one would find a technical sheet and the identity of the bridge, a maintenance book and the inspection dates."
"We have retaining walls, complex engineering structures on the roads which keep the ground from collapsing and slipping onto the road. The issue here is even worse than the one with the bridges: we are talking here about billions of square meters of walls. And there's no one to inspect them."
"The railway bridges' condition is worse than the road bridges'. The National Society of French Railways has been developing high-speed tracks for the last 30 years, which is fine. But the state of conventional railways is deteriorating. Many experts warn that accidents in a tunnel or on a viaduct are inevitable. The only solution here is to slow down the trains."
*The Union was established in 1982 and it consists of 70 companies, carrying out activities to maintain, repair and restore civil engineering structures, as well as 17 subcontractors (producers of products, associations…).