Deficient bridges plague US transportation

Feb. 27, 2017
The US Department of Transportation’s 2016 National Bridge Inventory data finds trucks, school buses and cars cross the nation’s 55,710 structurally compromised bridges 185 million times daily.

If placed end-to-end, the nation’s structurally deficient bridges would stretch 1,276 miles, half the distance from New York to Los Angeles, according to new federal government data.

The US Department of Transportation’s 2016 National Bridge Inventory data finds trucks, school buses and cars cross the nation’s 55,710 structurally compromised bridges 185 million times daily. About 1,900 are on the Interstate Highway System. State transportation departments have identified 13,000 Interstate bridges that need replacement, widening or major reconstruction.

Inventory of structurally deficient bridges has fallen 0.5% since the last report in 2015. At that pace, it would take more than two decades to replace or repair all of them, according to Dr Alison Premo Black, chief economist of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), who conducted the analysis.

According to Black, the data shows 28% of bridges (173,919) are more than 50 years old and have never had any major reconstruction work in that time.

“America’s highway network is woefully underperforming. It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization,” said Black. “State and local transportation departments haven’t been provided the resources to keep pace with the nation’s bridge needs.”

Bridge decks and support structures are regularly inspected for deterioration and remedial action. They are rated on a scale of zero to nine—with nine meaning the bridge is in “excellent” condition.  A bridge is classified as structurally deficient and in need of repair if its overall rating is four or below.

While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, they are in need of attention.

Other key findings in the ARTBA analysis:

•Iowa (4,968), Pennsylvania (4,506), Oklahoma (3,460), Missouri (3,195), Nebraska (2,361), Illinois (2,243), Kansas (2,151), Mississippi (2,098), Ohio (1,942) and New York (1,928) have the most structurally deficient bridges. The District of Columbia (9), Nevada (31), Delaware (43), Hawaii (64) and Utah (95) have the least.

•At least 15% of the bridges in eight states—Rhode Island (25%), Iowa (21%), Pennsylvania (20%), South Dakota (20%), West Virginia (17%), Nebraska (15%), North Dakota (15%) and Oklahoma (15%)—fall in the structurally deficient category.

More details are available at www.artbabridgereport.org.

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