Report: More than 47,000 deficient bridges could take nearly a century to repair

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 4/10/2019

More than 1,000 miles of bridges across the nation are structurally deficient and in poor condition, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s sixth annual bridge report. At the current pace of improvements, it would take nearly a century to repair them all.

In its analysis of the recently released U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2018 National Bridge Inventory database, ARTBA found more than 47,000 bridges were classified as structurally deficient. Placed end-to-end, the bridges would span the distance between Chicago and Houston, approximately 1,100 miles.

According to the Federal Highway Administration’s definition, a structurally deficient bridge is one with any component (deck, superstructure, substructure or culverts) in poor condition. On a scale of 0 to 9, “poor” is a rating of 4. A 0 rating (“failed condition”) means the bridge is closed beyond repair, with a 9 rating meaning excellent condition. A “Poor” rating does not imply imminent danger to the public. Closures are only recommended to bridges with a rating of 2. Bridges with a 0 or 1 rating requires closures.

Although the number of structurally deficient bridges has been declining each year since at least 2014, the rate of improvements in 2018 slowed to a crawl. Compared to the previous year, structurally deficient bridges declined by 0.1%. As the below chart shows, the decline was more rapid in 2015 and 2016 before slowing down in 2017 and 2018.

Defficient Bridges Chart

According to ARTBA, it would take more than 80 years to make repairs to the number of structurally deficient bridges at the current pace.

Of the more than 616,000 bridges nationwide, about 235,000 are in need of structural repair, rehabilitation or replacement, including the 47,000 structurally deficient bridges. This accounts for nearly 40 percent of all bridges in the United States. It will cost approximately $171 billion to fix those bridges. Narrowed down to bridges on the interstates, about 33% needs to be replaced or repaired.

Land Line Now spoke with ARTBA Chief Economist Allison Premo Black, who led the report. Black told Land Line Now that the previous round of infrastructure funding has not been sufficient to address the maintenance backlog, and that there are economic consequences to the number of deficient bridges that go as far down the supply chain as the truckers.

“This really creates a drag on the economy,” Black said. “If you’re trying to drive a truck full of freight and you have to be routed around because a bridge can’t handle the weight of your vehicle, there’s a real economic cost to that.”

You can hear the full interview below:

Most of the structurally deficient bridges have been this way for several years. According to the report, two-thirds of them have held that classification since 2014.

As a percentage of bridges in the state, Rhode Island is the worst. More than 23% of bridges in the Ocean State are classified as structurally deficient. Behind Rhode Island are West Virginia at 19.9% and Iowa at 19.4%.

Texas sits on the other side of the spectrum. Although the Lone Star State has twice as many bridges as the state with second most, only 1.3% of them are deemed structurally deficient. Just behind Texas are Nevada (1.4%) and Arizona (1.8%).




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