The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Bridges
About the Data
The bridge data used in this report is derived from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2010 National Bridge Inventory (NBI). NBI data is released annually and provides a significant level of detail on the condition of over 700,000 bridges nationwide. Bridges are inspected every two years, unless they’re in “very good” condition (four years) or “structurally deficient” (every year.) This data was released in February 2011.
The bridges included in this report are defined as ‘highway bridges’. According to the FHWA, ‘highway bridges’ are those that accommodate automobile traffic, are at least 20 ft. in length and have traffic passing on the bridge structure (not underneath it). These bridges may carry other modes, but they must carry automobiles to be part of this database. Bridges excluded from this analysis include those that do not accommodate automobiles (e.g.: pedestrian/cyclist-only bridges, railroad-only bridges), and bridges shorter than 20 feet, such as culverts.
Finding bridges near you: About our interactive map
Our interactive mapping tool relies on the geolocation data (latitude and longitude) provided by states in their regular reporting to the FHWA. Because every state is responsible for their own data collection and reporting, inaccurate coordinates abound in this dataset, and many bridges may not appear in the proper location. While geolocation data (coordinates on the map) may be wrong, the facility/crosses information in the right hand box when plotting a bridge is generally reliable. We’ve found some counties with all bad coordinates, or counties that plot all their bridges to one set of coordinates.
Unfortunately, with 600,000 bridges in the federal database we’re working with, there’s little we can do to fix this, other than hope that this and other federal datasets are made open, accessible, transparent and standardized so taxpayers can easily analyze information like this to assess whether or not their elected leaders are doing a good job with their money. If we can’t easily track the performance of a bridge or where federal transportation dollars are going, how can we know if the state is doing a good job?
If you’re a media member or blogger looking for a specific bridge, we might be able to help track it down. Email us at email@example.com with more specific inquiries about the data.
Clarifications and corrections
In version of the national report available until 3/31/11, on page 12 (Case study on NY’s Crown Point Bridge), we incorrectly stated the detour length, and a new state-subsidized ferry service at the site started on the first of February 2010. The corrected version reads: “Thousands of daily commuters had to drive 80 miles to another bridge or pay at least $8 a trip for a ferry until a state-subsidized ferry service started at the bridge site in February 2010.” The New York state report has been edited, but all other 50 state reports have not.
The Fix We're In For national report includes a summary of the problem, recommendations that could help reduce the alarming repair backlog, and the full battery of data, including the worst 100 counties and the two busiest structurally deficient bridges in each state.
This new report and its rankings look at the problem from a metropolitan perspective. Bridges in metro areas carry a disproportionate share of all trips on deficient bridges — the largest 102 metro areas carry 75 percent of all traffic crossing a deficient bridge each day.
The State of Our Nation's Bridges
Despite billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 68,842 bridges — 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. — are classified as "structurally deficient," requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
Two key problems persist: while Congress has repeatedly declared bridge safety a national priority, existing federal programs don't ensure that aging bridges actually get fixed; and the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges.
Learn More About Our Bridge Backlog
Did you know that states can transfer up to half of their federal money dedicated to bridge repair to other projects, no questions asked? Learn more about our bridges — and what we can do to start fixing them.
Tell Congress: Fix It!
America's transportation system is broken. Bridges are crumbling, commute times are longer than ever, and too few people have access to good options. It's past time to fix it.
Add your name to the growing list of Americans calling on Congress to fix it for America and give us safe, affordable and timely transportation options that we need