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Pop Quiz: What State Has Highest Percentage of Deficient Bridges?

Hint: It's also the smallest by area. And the next two on the "first is worst" list are in the Northeast as well. According to 2014 FHWA data, over 50 percent of this state's bridges are considered deficient, either structurally or functionally.
May 24, 2015, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Of the state's 766 bridges, 429 of them are considered deficient according to federal statistics," writes Russell J. Moore of GoLocalProv about the poor bridges in the state of Rhode Island. "That's 56 percent of the state's bridges."

That puts the state well ahead of the national average. On a national level, roughly 24 percent of the bridges in the country are considered deficient. [See bottom line for "structurally deficient" percentages].

Extra point answers for the runners up: "Neighboring Massachusetts ranks a close second, with 52 percent of its 5,141 bridges being considered as having some level of deficiency," writes Moore. "New York came a distant third place in the category of most deficient bridges in the country, with 39 percent of its 17,456 bridges being considered deficient."

Checking the data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), it turns out that "deficient" is a category that include "structurally deficient" and "functionally obsolete". 

Structurally deficient generally means that the condition of the bridge contains a significant defect. 

Functionally obsolete generally means that the bridge in question is not sufficient to meet the use of what it was designed for--meaning it may lack the proper deck geometry, or the proper under-clearances, for instance. 

Why so bad in the Ocean State? Is it just climate and salt water?

A report released last year under previous director Michael Lewis, entitled "A Bridge to Everywhere" [PDF], that details the sorry state of Rhode Island's bridges, blames the age of the bridges, the state's cold winter climate, high population density, and changes in traffic volumes. But above all else, the report, predictably, blamed a lack of funding. 

"In Rhode Island, decreasing gas tax revenue, limited funding sources, and increasing debt service costs have led to a decline in the investment in Rhode Island’s roads and bridges. Simply put, Rhode Island hasn't been able to keep up with the needs of the aging infrastructure," the report states.

However, as state gas taxes go, Rhode Island has kept up far better than most. It has the nation's 13th highest state gas tax [PDF] at 33 cents per gallon, almost a nickel above the national average was 28.14 cents as of April 1, and was increased fairly recently, relatively speaking, about 6 years ago; i.e., it's done a good job on its gas tax - but it is clearly insufficient.

Moore writes that it won't be easy raising taxes to repair or replace bridges.

"Raising taxes to fund bridge and road maintenance is not an option as Rhode Island already has high taxes," said Monique Chartier, a spokesperson from the Rhode Island Taxpayers association.

To distinguish between structurally deficient and deficient bridges, page two of RIDOT's "Bridge to Everywhere report states, "One in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient. One in six are structurally deficient in Rhode Island."

Hat tip: AASHTO Daily Transportation Update (May 22)

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Published on Friday, May 22, 2015 in GoLocalProv
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