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Report: 63K Bridges Await Federal Fix

Monday, April 28, 2014

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At least 63,000 bridges in the U.S. are structurally compromised, including hundreds on heavily traveled urban interstate highways, a new report says.

The report, released April 24 by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), analyzed data from the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database, which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released in March.

If the nation's structurally deficient bridges were laid end to end, it would take 25 hours for a person driving 60 miles per hour to cross them, says ARTBA, a national transportation construction trade group based in Washington D.C.

© iStock / gladassfanny

"The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials. The state transportation departments can't just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away," ARTBA's chief economist says.

The FHWA classifies a bridge as structurally deficient if the deck, superstructure, substructure, or culvert is rated in "poor" condition (0 to 4 on the NBI rating scale).

The classification can also apply if a bridge's load-carrying capacity is significantly below current design standards or if a waterway below frequently overtops the bridge during floods.

Dwindling Funds

States have already approved highway projects that require federal aid, but unless there is congressional action, there won't be any support from the Highway Trust Fund for projects in fiscal year 2015.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced in January that the Highway Trust Fund would go broke by August. Since then, the agency has posted monthly updates on exactly how much money the fund has left.

"Letting the Highway Trust Fund investment dry up would have a devastating impact on bridge repairs," says Dr. Alison Premo Black, ARTBA's chief economist. "It would set back bridge improvements in every state for the next decade."

According to Black, the trust fund has supported $89 billion in bridge construction work by the states over the past 10 years.

No 'Magic Wand'

"The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials. The state transportation departments can't just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away," Black says.

The current transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), is set to expire in September. When the $105 billion, 27-month MAP-21 was approved, it was the first multi-year transportation authorization enacted since 2005.

In February, President Obama proposed a $302 billion, four-year surface transportation reauthorization budget. His plan includes $63 billion to address the Highway Trust Fund shortfall for four years and $206 billion for highways and road safety.

structurally deficient bridges

More than 63,000 bridges in the U.S. are structurally compromised, ARBTA says.

"It takes committed investment by our legislators. Members of Congress need to come to grips with that. Some of our most heavily traveled bridges were built in the 1930s. Most are more than 40 years old," Black says.

Bridge Data by State

ARTBA's analysis of the U.S. bridge data found:

  • The 250 most heavily used, structurally deficient bridges are on urban interstate highways, and all but one are at least 39 years old. (See the list of these bridges here.)
  • States with the highest number of structurally deficient bridges are Pennsylvania (5,218); Iowa (5,043); Oklahoma (4,227); Missouri (3,357); and California (2,769).
  • States with the fewest structurally deficient bridges are Nevada (36); Delaware (56); Utah (117); Alaska (133); and Hawaii (144).
  • At least 20 percent of bridges in four states are structurally deficient—Pennsylvania (23 percent), Rhode Island (22 percent); Iowa (21 percent), and South Dakota (21 percent). (See the list of bridge rankings by state here.)

While these bridges may not pose an immediate danger, ARTBA suggests posting signs to alert the public to deficiencies that need repair.

Last month, the Transportation Construction Coalition, a group of 29 national associations and labor unions, announced the "Hardhats for Highways" initiative to target members of Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill. The coalition is chaired by ARTBA and the Associated General Contractors of America.


Tagged categories: American Road & Trans Builders Assn (ARTBA); Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Funding; Government; Government contracts; Maintenance coating work; Maintenance programs; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways

Comment from Steven Miller, (4/30/2014, 12:03 PM)

“Structurally deficient” is a defined term in bridge inspection. It’s even defined in this article. But "structurally compromised," the term used in the first sentence of this article, does not necessarily mean the same thing. I would like the author of this article to define that term, because as I understand it, I do not think it means the same thing as the bridge inspectors' "structurally deficient" rating and I think it is misleading.

Comment from Mary Chollet, (4/30/2014, 12:51 PM)

Steve, we respect your point. ARTBA uses both "structurally compromised" and "structurally deficient" to refer to these bridges: We have invited them to clarify. Thanks.

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