New report highlights mounting challenge of aging bridgesMarch 30, 2011
By Transportation for America
One in 9 rated “structurally deficient” as average age nears 50 years. In state rankings, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Iowa have largest backlog of deficient bridges
WASHINGTON, D.C. – One in nine of the bridges and overpasses American drivers cross each day is rated in poor enough condition that they could become dangerous or be closed without near-term repair, according to a report released today by Transportation for America.
Nearly 70,000 bridges nationwide are rated “structurally deficient” and are in need of substantial repair or replacement, according to federal data. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that the backlog of potentially dangerous bridges would cost $70.9 billion to eliminate, while the federal outlay for bridges amounts to slightly more than $5 billion per year.
The report, The Fix We’re In For: The State of the Nation’s Bridges, ranks states in terms of the overall condition of the state’s bridges, with one being the worst, 51 being the best. Twenty-three states across the country have a higher percentage of deficient bridges than the national average of 11.5 percent.
The five states with the worst bridge conditions have over 20 percent structurally deficient bridges: Pennsylvania has the largest share of deteriorating bridges at 26.5 percent, followed by Oklahoma (22.0%), Iowa (21.7%), Rhode Island (21.6%), and South Dakota (20.3%).
At the other end of the spectrum, five states have less than 5 percent of their bridges rated structurally deficient: Nevada leads the rankings at 2.2 percent, followed by Florida (2.4%), Texas (3.0%), Arizona (3.0%), and Utah (4.5%). The table on the bottom of the main report page shows all 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked by their percentage of structurally deficient bridges, with “1” being the worst conditions and “51” the best.
“Since the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Americans have been acutely aware of the critical need to maintain our bridges,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. That need is growing rapidly, the report authors noted, as the average age of bridges passes 42 years for bridges that mostly were designed to have a 50-year lifespan before reconstruction or replacement.
“As Congress takes up the next six-year transportation bill, it is imperative that we devote a larger share of funding to protecting our bridges” Corless said. “Americans also want to see more accountability for maintaining our infrastructure: 64 percent of voters say that the way government currently spends money on building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is inefficient and unwise, according to a February poll for the Rockefeller Foundation.”
Hit the jump to see the full state rankings
Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of America’s bridges to be of national significance. However, the current federal program falls short of the need, even as it allows states to shift funds from maintenance toward new construction, whether or not they can show progress toward rehabilitating deficient bridges.
Some states have worked hard to address the problem and have seen their backlog of deficient bridges shrink in number. For example, the Washington Department of Transportation has adopted a policy to give top priority to making repairs before costly reconstruction is needed. Compared to a national average of 11.5 percent, only 5.1 percent of Washington’s bridges are considered structurally deficient.
“Washington State Department of Transportation has made sound policy choices but our state, like so many others, is cash-strapped and needs greater federal support,” said Paula Hammond, Washington State DOT secretary. “The federal government should recognize those states that have made asset management a priority and increase funding available to meet growing transportation needs.”
“The backlog of needed repairs to America’s bridges is daunting. Until our current infrastructure is put in stable condition, the federal government should reward states that make the smart choice to first maintain what we’ve already built,” said Al Biehler, president, Allen Biehler Consulting LLC, and former secretary of PennDOT. “And as a bonus to the economy, recent analysis has shown that repair work on roads and bridges generates 16 percent more jobs than new construction.”
Deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as making the preventative repairs that ward off serious deterioration. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly burdens taxpayers.
“Continuing to let our roads and bridges slide into a state of disrepair is no way to support an economy that depends on the safe and efficient movement of people and goods across the country,” said Andrew W. Herrmann, president-elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Advisory Council Chair for ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. “Just as transportation agencies must fix our bridges, Congress must fix our transportation programs to put a priority on repair and maintenance of our existing infrastructure.”
Most bridges in use today were designed to last roughly 50 years before reconstruction or replacement. Today, roughly a third of the nation’s 600,000 highway bridges are 50 years old or older. In order to prevent future catastrophes on our nation’s roads and bridges, Congress should:
- Provide states with increased resources to repair and rebuild. States need federal support to back their efforts to prioritize repair and maintenance.
- Ensure that funds sent to states for bridge repair are used only for that purpose.
- Require that rehabilitated or rebuilt bridges are safe for everyone who uses them, whether they are in vehicles, on foot or bicycle, or using public transit.
The release of The Fix We’re In For: The State of our Nation’s Bridges is the first in a series of reports and web components as part of a new campaign launched today by Transportation for America. The report and its online maps can be found at T4america.org.
State Bridge Rankings
|District of Columbia||20||12.30%|