“There are more deficient bridges in our metropolitan areas than there are McDonald’s restaurants in the entire country.”
So says James Corless, director of Transportation for America, and he has the grim numbers to prove it.
More than 18,000—18,239, to be exact—of the nation’s busiest bridges are rated as “structurally deficient,” while the nation has about 14,000 McDonald’s, according to The Fix We’re In: The State of America’s Bridges, an analysis just released by Transportation for America (T4A).
Worse, the group says, deficient big-city bridges carry about 210 million trips daily—more than three times the number of McCustomers served each day.
T4A is a Washington, DC-based coalition of more than 500 real estate, housing, environmental, public health, business and transportation groups and political leaders that advocates for infrastructure funding.
The new report follows a similar analysis by T4A in March that analyzed bridge integrity by state and county and provided an interactive mapping tool to identify individual bridge ratings.
Big Cities, Bad Bridges
The report is drawn from a T4A analysis of the 2010 National Bridge Inventory, a database released in February 2011 by the Federal Highway Administration.
That analysis found that one in nine U.S. bridges—about 70,000 nationwide—has been rated “structurally deficient,” which means that it needs more frequent monitoring and critical, near-term maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
The new report ranks 102 metropolitan areas over 500,000 people in three population categories, based on the percentage of deficient bridges.
The bottom line: One-fourth of U.S. bridges, located in the largest metro areas, carry a whopping 75 percent of the trips made on structurally deficient bridges, the new report found.
396 Drivers per Second
What does that mean? The report found, for example:
• In Los Angeles, 396 drivers cross a deficient bridge every second.
• In Pittsburgh, PA, more than 30 percent of bridges are deficient—the highest percentage in the nation.
• Oklahoma City, OK, (19.8 percent) topped the chart for metro areas between 1-2 million, while Tulsa, OK, led (27.5 percent) for areas between 500,000 and 1 million people.
• California has the busiest metro-area bridges (led by Los Angeles), while Pennsylvania leads the nation with the most metropolitan areas (six) with a high percentage of deficient bridges.
Just over 26 percent of Pennsylvania’s bridges are rated deficient—a percentage that would be even higher if not for a recent program that quadrupled state funding for bridge repairs, the report notes.
About one-third of the nation’s bridges are older than the typical design lifespan of 50 years, the report says.
“These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation’s people and goods,” said Corless.
The report notes emergency bridge closings that have wreaked havoc with urban commuters nationwide and says the problem will grow “with the majority of American bridges soon due for major maintenance, overhaul or replacement.”
Deficient bridges in metro areas have proved a “stubborn” problem “that current transportation programs have not been able to address adequately,” the report says.
Transportation for America
The problem: These bridges’ enormous size, structural complexity and heavy daily traffic—all the same factors that age them—also make them extremely complicated and expensive to repair or replace.
On the other hand, T4A says, targeting resources toward selected heavily traveled deficient bridges in major metropolitan areas would dramatically improve safety for much of the traveling public
‘Not Going Away’
“A sincere initiative to fix these bridges would put thousands of people to work, while ensuring that these critical links continue to carry people safely to work and that goods can make it to market, now and well into the future,” said Corless.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that eliminating the backlog of potentially dangerous bridges would cost $70.9 billion, while the federal outlay for bridges amounts to slightly more than $5 billion per year.
Said Andy Herrmann, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers: “The poor condition of our bridges is a problem that is not going away.”