New Report Calls Attention to Need for Critical Bridge Funding

It may have been serendipity, but Transportation for America's new report on the sorry state of America's bridges, 11% are structurally deficient, was released the same day that a temporary replacement span opened on the Skagit River bridge in Wash.
June 23, 2013, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Larry Copeland writes about Transportation for American's newest bridge report, "The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Bridges", released June 19.  The report highlights the numbers, percentages, and locations of bridges that are rated "structurally deficient", meaning "those that require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement", and the risk they pose to the motoring public.

More than one in nine bridges in the USA — at least 66,405, or 11% of the total — are structurally deficient, according to a new report.   The structurally deficient bridges are 65 years old on average, and the Federal Highway Administration estimates that repairing them would cost $76 billion.

Showing the serious safety risk to drivers and the staggering costs to address them was one of Transportation For America's main purposes in writing the report - to influence the deliberations that will soon begin to write the next transportation reauthorization bill, as the current one, MAP-21, expires Sept. 30, 2014.  Rather than building new roads to address congestion, a "fix-it-first" strategy is favored by many non-profit environmental, smart growth, and transportation groups to address safety and maintenance.

The group's press release indicates some of the nation's worst and best states to be driving across bridges. 

The five states with the worst bridge conditions have a share over 20 percent: Pennsylvania has the largest share of deteriorating bridges (24.5%), 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 and Florida lead the rankings with 2.2%, followed by Texas (2.6%), Arizona (3.2%), and Utah (4.3%).

The report's emphasis is mostly on the term 'structurally deficient', which transportation writer Ashley Halsey III of the Washington Post picked-up on, citing three major bridge collapses that didn't meet that definition.

The report does call attention, though to a lesser extent, to "fracture critical" which applied to both the Skagit River (2013) and I-35W (2007) bridge collapses, but neglects to mention "functionally obsolete" - applied to all three bridge collapses Halsey cites, including the earthquake-induced collapse of the Bay Bridge in 1989.

While structurally deficient may be the most serious category, all three terms explain the failing grade the nation's transportation infrastructure received in the American Society of Civil Engineer's report in March.

Watch the NBC Nightly News video on the report that asks, "Why are America's bridges falling down?".  It has footage of the Washington State and Minneapolis bridge collapses. John Robert Smith, co-chair of Transportation For America, is interviewed. See clips of the temporary replacement for the broken span of the I-5 Skagit River bridge now in operation, and hear the Reason Foundation's positive take on the state of U.S. infrastructure.

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Published on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 in USA Today
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