GAO report: Nearly a quarter of U.S. bridges are deficient

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 12/2/2015

A report released by the Government Accountability Office reveals that nearly one in four bridges in the United States are considered deficient. Data covers a 10-year span from 2005 to 2014.

Using data from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory, the GAO’s report discovered that of the more than 610,000 bridges in the United States, 10 percent were considered structurally deficient and 14 percent were categorized as functionally obsolete.

According to the report, a structurally deficient bridge has one or more structural components in poor condition. A functionally obsolete bridge has a poor configuration of design that may no longer be adequate for the traffic it serves.

Nearly a quarter of the nation’s bridges are on the National Highway System. Of those bridges, 4 percent are structurally deficient and 17 percent are functionally obsolete, meaning that 1 in 5 is considered deficient.

Although 25 percent of bridges are categorized as deficient, the number of deficient bridges has decreased since 2005.

According to the GAO report, structurally deficient bridges decreased by 21 percent between 2005 and 2014, and functionally obsolete bridges decreased by 6 percent. Within the National Highway System, there was a 20 percent drop in structurally deficient bridges and a 2 percent decrease in functionally obsolete bridges.

More than 40 states reported a decline in structurally deficient bridges, with Hawaii reporting the highest rate at 63 percent. The number of structurally deficient bridges increased 52 percent in Arizona, the largest hike in the nation. For functionally obsolete bridges, more than 30 states reported decreases. South Dakota experienced the largest decrease at 36 percent, and Nevada reported the largest increase at 27 percent.

State agencies own more than 90 percent of NHS bridges and nearly half of all bridges. Local agencies own approximately 5 percent of NHS bridges and the remaining half of all bridges not owned by state agencies.

In July, Land Line reported that Rhode Island counted the highest percentage of deficient bridges, with 56.5 percent deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Of the 13,137 bridges in Minnesota, only 11.5 percent are structurally deficient/functionally obsolete, the lowest percentage among all states.

Land Line reported on an FHWA study in April that revealed more detailed information about bridge conditions. According to that report, 11 percent of bridges were deemed structurally deficient, including 7.5 percent of urban bridges and 12.3 percent of rural bridges. Approximately 14 percent of bridges were considered functionally obsolete, including 24 percent of urban bridges and 10.4 percent of rural bridges.

The latest report was compiled by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, chaired by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., respectively.

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