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New Report Highlights Mounting Challenge of Aging Bridges

One in nine of the bridges and overpasses American drivers cross each day is rated in poor enough condition that they could become dangerous or be closed without near-term repair, according to a report released by Transportation for America.

Nearly 70,000 bridges nationwide are rated “structurally deficient” and are in need of substantial repair or replacement, according to federal data. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that 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 per year.

The report, The Fix We’re In For: The State of the Nation’s Bridges, ranks states in terms of the overall condition of the state’s bridges, with “1” being the worst, “51” being the best. Twenty-three states across the country have a higher percentage of deficient bridges than the national average of 11.5 percent.

The five states with the worst bridge conditions have over 20 percent structurally deficient bridges: Pennsylvania has the largest share of deteriorating bridges at 26.5 percent, followed by Oklahoma (22.0 percent), Iowa (21.7 percent), Rhode Island (21.6 percent), and South Dakota (20.3 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, five states have less than 5 percent of their bridges rated structurally deficient: Nevada leads the rankings at 2.2 percent, followed by Florida (2.4 percent), Texas (3.0 percent), Arizona (3.0 percent), and Utah (4.5 percent). The table on the bottom of the main report page shows all 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked by their percentage of structurally deficient bridges.

“Since the 2007 collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Americans have been acutely aware of the critical need to maintain our bridges,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. That need is growing rapidly, the report authors noted, as the average age of bridges passes 42 years for bridges that mostly were designed to have a 50-year lifespan before reconstruction or replacement.

“As Congress takes up the next six-year transportation bill, it is imperative that we devote a larger share of funding to protecting our bridges,” Corless said. “Americans also want to see more accountability for maintaining our infrastructure: 64 percent of voters say that the way government currently spends money on building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is inefficient and unwise, according to a February poll for the Rockefeller Foundation.”