Study: Thousands of deficient U.S. bridges

| October 21, 2011
Closed Sherman Minton bridge is example of structurally deficient U.S. bridges.

A new report shows more than 18,000 of the nation’s busiest bridges, clustered in the nation’s metropolitan areas, are rated as “structurally deficient,” according to Transportation for America.

“The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Nation’s Busiest Bridges” ranks 102 metro areas in three population categories based on the percentage of deficient bridges.

The report found Pittsburgh had the highest percentage of deficient bridges (30.4 percent) for a metro area with a population of more than 2 million (and overall).

Oklahoma City (19.8 percent) topped the chart for metro areas between 1-2 million, as did Tulsa, Okla. (27.5 percent), for metro areas between 500,000-1 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, the metro areas that had the smallest percentage of deficient bridges are Orlando, Fla. (0.60 percent), for the largest metro areas, Las Vegas (0.20 percent) for midsized metro areas, and Fort Myers, Fla. (0.30 percent), for smaller metro areas.

“There are more deficient bridges in our metropolitan areas than there are McDonald’s restaurants in the entire country,” says James Corless, director of Transportation for America – 18,239 versus roughly 14,000 McDonald’s. “These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation’s people and goods.”

Nearly 70,000 bridges nationwide are rated “structurally deficient” and are in need of substantial repair or replacement, according to federal data. Metropolitan-area bridges carry 75 percent of the trips that are made on structurally deficient bridges, Corless says.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates the backlog of potentially dangerous bridges would cost $70.9 billion to eliminate, while the federal outlay for bridges amounts to slightly more than $5 billion a year.

“The recent shutdown of the Sherman Minton Bridge between Kentucky and Indiana was yet another reminder of the urgent need to repair our nation’s bridges,” Corless says. “A sincere initiative to fix these bridges would put thousands of people to work while ensuring that these critical links continue to carry people safely to work and that goods can make it to market, now and well into the future.”

Congress repeatedly has declared the condition and safety of America’s bridges to be of national significance. However, the current federal program falls short of the need, even as it allows states to shift funds from maintenance toward new construction, whether or not they can show progress toward rehabilitating deficient bridges.