Repairing All the ‘Structurally Deficient’ Bridges in the US Would Take More Than 80 Years

Every day roughly 178 million people in the US travel over bridges in need of “urgent” repair.

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Apr 3 2019, 6:12pm

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the bridges in “urgent” need of repair, according to the ARTBA. Image: Shutterstock

A new report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said that at the current rate, it would take more than 80 years to fix all of the country’s bridges in need of urgent repairs.

The ARTBA’s 2019 Bridge Report said that 8 percent—or 47,000 of the country’s 616,087 bridges—are “structurally deficient,” which the ARTBA estimates would cost $171 billion to fix.

The report, published this week, is an analysis of data from the US Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.

“There’s a lot of conversation on Capitol Hill about investing in infrastructure; it’s the one thing both Democrats and Republicans agree should be done,” John Schneidawind, vice president of public affairs at the ARTBA, told Motherboard in an email. “But there’s little agreement yet on how to fund that investment.”

Schneidawind cites a shortage in funding for the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Trust Fund, which supports road construction and mass transit projects. It’s funded by a federal tax on fuel. But the last time the tax was increased was in 1993, and Schneidawind says that it doesn’t provide enough to deal with the scope of the problem.

“Almost 90 percent [of Americans] believe the Democratic leadership and President Trump should work together during 2019 to pass legislation that would improve other infrastructure,” Schneidawind said. “Americans want better infrastructure, but many in Congress are afraid to ask them to pay for it.”

More than 178 million people travel over structurally deficient bridges each day, including New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, which connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, and the Memorial Bridge connecting Washington DC with Arlington, Va.

The most traveled structurally deficient bridges are on parts of Route 101, Interstate 405, and Interstate 5 in California, where daily crossings are as high as 289,000, the report says.

The number of bridges that can be classified as “structurally deficient” would be even higher, with an additional 6,533 that would be classified as such, but in 2018 the Federal Highway Administration redefined the term to exclude bridges that only had one structural element in need of repair, as well as other technicalities.

The states with the highest percentages of “structurally deficient” bridges include Iowa with 19.3 percent, West Virginia at 19.8 percent and Rhode Island with 23 percent. Iowa also tops the list in the country number-wise with 4,675 bridges in need of urgent repair.

“While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, they are in need of attention,” said the ARTBA in the report.