Bridge Managers Say Stimulus Has Provided a Boost But Funding Remains Insufficient
Despite the high number of sub-standard bridges throughout the nation, bridge engineers remain optimistic they will be able to reduce number of deficient bridges
TUSCALOOSA, Ala., November 4, 2009—Although a shockingly high number of bridges in the United States remain sub-standard, highway and bridge engineers are optimistic about reducing the number of structurally deficient (SD) and functionally obsolete (FO) bridges. The information comes from an annual survey of highway professionals in 50 state Departments of Transportation and the District of Columbia conducted by Better Roads magazine. CONTECH Construction Products, Inc. sponsors a pullout map in Better Roads with a graphical look at current bridge conditions and the five-year trend in each state’s inventory of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges.
Fourteen percent of all interstate and state bridges are considered functionally obsolete, and 6.8 percent are rated as structurally deficient, with a combined SD/FO total of 20.7 percent, the Better Roads study finds. Of all the nation’s city/county/township bridges, 10.7 percent are functionally obsolete, and 14.5 percent are structurally deficient, with a combined SD/FO total of 25.2 percent.
A total of 597,787 bridges were surveyed this year–383 more bridges than surveyed than in 2008. Of the 597,404 bridges surveyed in 2008, 144,942 were combined SD/FO. This year, there were 141,898 combined SD/FO bridges — 3,044 less than last year. However, although the number of deficient bridges may show that they have declined, many of the bridge engineers surveyed are quick to point out that this doesn’t take the actual square footage of SD/FO bridges into account.
The actual numbers may have declined, but the square footage may have increased, points out a highway program bridge manager with the Louisiana Department of Transportation in the Bridge Inventory.
The exclusive, proprietary study, which provides the most current data available on bridge conditions, finds that although bridge engineers still cite funding availability as one of the biggest challenges in lowering the number of states’ deficient bridges, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) — better known as the stimulus — has provided some relief and has increased the level of funding for bridges.
Department of Transportation personnel surveyed say that this subsidy has enabled maintenance and reconstruction of some bridges that would otherwise not be possible, but the actual results range from having no effect or a minimal effect to a modest or significant impact. Officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation Bridge Office — a state all too familiar with deficient bridges after experiencing the collapse of its I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in August 2007 — note that more than 50 bridges on Minnesota’s state and local highways have been advanced with ARRA funding.
However, bridge design engineers with the Hawaii Department of Transportation, say the stimulus funding “has assisted in funding a couple of bridge projects, but it hasn’t made a significant difference.”
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