Report finds thousands of U.S. bridges in dangerous need of repair

Published 4 April 2011

Last week a new report found that nearly 12 percent of the bridges in the United States were “structurally deficient” and required replacement; the report found that major repairs and critical maintenance has often been delayed as states are struggling with budget shortfalls; the average age of bridges across the country is nearing forty-two years, and most were designed to have a fifty year lifespan before they were replaced or reconstructed; Transportation for America has called for increased federal funding for infrastructure to help make repairs; the American Society of Civil Engineers has recommended that the United States spend $17 billion a year on bridge maintenance, significantly more than the $10.5 billion that is currently spent each year

Last week a new report found that nearly 12 percent of the bridges in the United States were “structurally deficient” and required replacement.

The report, prepared by Transportation for America (TOA), an advocacy organization made up of business, transportation, and environmental organizations, found that 69,000 bridges are in need of major repairs and critical maintenance has often been delayed as states are struggling with budget shortfalls.

James Corless, the director of TOA, clarified that while dangerous, “a structurally deficient bridge is not an unsafe bridge, but it is a warning sign.”

TOA has called for increased federal funding for infrastructure to help repair aging roads and bridges.

Pennsylvania is the state with the largest number of deteriorating bridges with more than one out of four bridges in need of repair – 5,906 out of a total of 22,271.

Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island, and South Dakota followed Pennsylvania as the five states with the highest number of aging bridges. More than 20 percent of bridges in those states were structurally deficient.

Meanwhile Nevada, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Utah were the five states with the fewest bridges in need of repair.

Corless said that the United States was in the midst of “a very big and very important debate about the nation’s infrastructure” and that “we all know America’s infrastructure is decidedly middle aged.”

The average age of bridges across the country is nearing forty-two years, and most were designed to have a fifty year lifespan before they were replaced or reconstructed.

Concern for the nation’s bridges spiked immediately following the sudden collapse of a forty year old bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed thirteen people, but has since lagged.

Federal spending on bridge repairs are far lower than what engineers say is necessary to keep America’s roads safe.

From 2006 to 2009, federal spending increased $650 million, but fell far short of the $22.8 billion that the Federal Highway Administration requested to make critical repairs.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has recommended that the United States spend $17 billion a year on bridge maintenance, significantly more than the $10.5 billion that is currently spent each year.

“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,” he added citing a February poll by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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