Bridge Managers Say Stimulus Has Provided a Boost But Funding Remains Insufficient
John Latta, editor-in-chief of Better Roads, notes that this is deeply troubling. “Look no further for evidence that a disturbing number of America’s bridges now need care, repair or replacement,” Latta says. “This comprehensive survey makes it startlingly clear. Look at the responses of the state experts who are responsible for these bridges, and you become even more aware of just how much of a problem we face and must address urgently.”
Moreover, bridge engineers surveyed say there still isn’t enough emphasis on bridges and other infrastructure. Now that the surface transportation legislation (officially known as Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act … Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU) has expired — the five-year, $286.5 billion bill — expired on Sept. 30 — the nation is currently left without an infrastructure-funding plan. The transportation industry is calling for a half-trillion dollar funding plan, money that would include funding for highways and bridges.
Although Congress has begun discussions about the reauthorization of the legislation and a temporary extension of the plan was passed, there hasn’t been any action yet to sign a new bill into law.
This exacerbates the nation’s crisis with structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. Although the stimulus has provided a boost to some state, county and municipal DOTs, lack of sufficient funding to not only maintain but improve structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges remains the perennial problem, says Tina Grady Barbaccia, executive editor of Better Roads. “Compounding the funding problem is lack of adequate training and retention and sufficient time to complete projects,” Barbaccia says. “It’s no secret that the construction industry faces a shortage of qualified workers, and it carriers over into bridge repair and inspection.”
What’s more, Barbaccia points out, “Limitations on construction dates and bureaucratic red tape — including environmental restrictions — can delay or even stop projects.”
The Better Roads Bridge Inventory provides further insight into the decaying bridge inventory by breaking out structurally deficient bridges from those that are functionally obsolete. Structurally deficient bridges are considered more serious, since they have structural problems that require limiting weight or more frequent inspections. Some must be closed. Functionally obsolete bridges may be in good condition, but don’t meet the needs of current traffic such as with clearance and capacity. Responding agencies use a standard sufficiency rating system developed by the Federal Highway Administration, to rate each bridge. Federal law mandates that all bridges must be inspected every two years.
Texas leads the nation with the most combined structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges (9,564 or 19 percent). Pennsylvania is second with 9,130 (39 percent), followed by Missouri (7,103 or 29 percent), Ohio (6,993, or 23 percent), and Oklahoma (6,904 or 29 percent). The District of Columbia leads the nation with the highest percentage of combined structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges at 55 percent.
States with the lowest percentage of structurally deficient/functionally obsolete bridges include: Arizona (11 percent); Nevada (11 percent); Minnesota (13 percent); Colorado (14 percent); Wisconsin (14 percent); and Wyoming (14 percent).
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