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The State of the Nation’s Bridges

Posted By Tina Grady Barbaccia On November 6, 2013 @ 2:46 pm In Better Bridges,Bridge Inventory,Featured Articles,In the Magazine,Products,Technology | 1 Comment

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Our exclusive survey of bridge conditions in the United States shows that every year the percentage of overall structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges slightly improves, but for most states consistent, guaranteed funding remains a major roadblock to making bigger strides in this important infrastructure.

Methodology: The Better Roads Bridge Inventory is an exclusive, award-winning annual survey that has been conducted since 1979. Bridge engineers from every state and Washington, D.C., are sent a survey with both qualitative and quantitative questions. The Federal Highway Administration, in consultation with the states, has assigned a sufficiency rating, or SR, to each bridge (20 feet or more) that is inventoried. Formula SR rating factors are as outlined in the current “Recording and Coding Guide for Structures Inventory and Appraisal SI&A of the Nation’s Bridges.” The qualitative data are gathered through a questionnaire about major issues concerning bridge conditions and maintenance. For the FHWA’s explanation of what makes a bridge structurally deficient and how a bridge becomes functionally obsolete, go to www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/2008cpr/chap3.htm#7. Better Roads’ editorial staff would like to thank all the state highway engineers for their continuing cooperation and special effort to provide current data. The data was collected through October 2013. 

Click through for a closer look.

Click the image for a closer look.

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Despite the nation’s transportation funding system being in peril as the expiration of the surface transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2014, many state agencies expect to lower their number of functionally obsolete (FO) and structurally deficient (SD) bridges. However, funding still tops the list as the biggest impediment to lowering the state rates of SD/FO bridges.

Even for Washington, D.C.’s Department of Transportation, the area in the nation with the highest percentage of combined SD/FO bridges (57 percent), the agency expects to lower its number of SD/FO bridges. The District has a total of 205 bridges and 117 total combined SD/FO bridges.

Don Cooney, infrastructure project management administrator for the District’s agency notes in our Bridge Inventory survey, “all but one of our structurally deficient bridges is in the District’s ‘Six-Year Plan’ for rehabilitation or construction.”

Cooney notes funding remains as the greatest challenge in lowering the District’s SD/FO bridges. (To see a state-by-state list of the greatest challenges to lowering the state rate of SD/FO bridges, see the table “What causes the most damage to bridges?” on Page 11.) “Insufficient funding will delay implementing design and construction of bridge projects,” Cooney tells Better Roads.

Rhode Island ranks as the state with the second-highest percentage (51 percent) of total combined SD/FO bridges. According to our survey, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation does not expect to be able to lower its rate of SD/FO bridges in the coming year. David Fish, P.E., managing engineer of bridge design for the Rhode Island DOT, also notes funding availability is the state’s greatest challenge. Rhode Island has 766 total bridges, with a combined total of 387 of them classified as SD/FO. Of its 619 total interstate and state bridges, 311 of them (50 percent) are SD/FO; 76 (52 percent) of Rhode Island’s 147 total city/county/township bridges are considered SD/FO.

What causes the most damage to bridges? (Click the image for a closer look.)

What causes the most damage to bridges? (Click the image for a closer look.)

New York is tied with Pennsylvania as the third and fourth states in the nation with 39 percent of its total bridges being considered SD/FO. New York has a total 17,392 bridges in the state, with 6,752 considered as SD/FO. The state has 8,339 total interstate and state bridges, with 3,453 (41 percent) of them being SD/FO. Of its 9,053 total city/county/township bridges, 3,299 (36 percent) are SD/FO. Like D.C. and Rhode Island, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) says funding availability is its biggest obstacles to reducing the number of deficient and obsolete bridges. To what extent will insufficient funding restrict important work in the coming year for the agency? “Greatly,” Mengisteab Debessay of NYSDOT’s Structures Division says in the 2013 Bridge Inventory survey. “Since our bridges are getting older and the number of deficient bridges is increasing, more funding will be required to improve our bridges.” On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the poorest, Debessay gives New York State a 3. He says more than 60 percent of the highway bridges are in good condition.

Pennsylvania, which also has 39 percent (8,752) of its 22,593 total bridges considered to be SD/FO, has fewer of its total interstate and state bridges (16,135) ranked as SD/FO. Of the 16,135 total interstate and state bridges, only 5,530 (34 percent) are considered SD/FO – 7 percent better than New York. However, when it comes to total city/county/township bridges, New York is in better shape. Fifty percent (3,222) of Pennsylvania’s 6,458 total city/county/township bridges are SD/FO. Funding availability is also the greatest challenge for the state. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) expects a reduction in SD bridges, says Anthony J. McCloskey, P.E., bridge asset management section chief of PennDOT’s Bureau of Maintenance and Operations. Whether this reduction is long term is “questionable,” he says.PennDOT self-ranks its bridges as 3.5, with 1 being the poorest. McCloskey and his agency acknowledge the state has one of the highest numbers of SD bridges in the country but points out PennDOT “has taken great strides in the past to reduce this number. Between 2008 and 2010, we opened bids on 1,603 SD bridges, which surpassed any other state DOT in improving their infrastructure. Our current SD bridge number has reduced from an all-time high in 2008 (6,023 SD bridges) to an all-time low in October 2013 (4,350 SD bridges).”

Massachusetts comes in as fifth in the nation by a percentage point with the highest percentage of SD/FO bridges in the nation. Interestingly, this East Coast state is at 38 percent across the board for percentage of total combined SD/FO bridges (1,962) of the state’s total 5,149 bridges. Massachusetts’ 3,577 total interstate and state bridges have 1,369 (38 percent) rated as SD/FO. OF its 1,572 total city/county/township bridges, 593 (38 percent) are SD/FO.

Alex Bardow, a bridge engineer with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), says his agency doesn’t expect to be able to lower this number of SD/FO bridges. Funding availability is the great challenge, he says.

Our South Pacific island state of Hawaii is next on the list, only coming in one percentage point lower than Massachusetts at 37 percent of combined total SD/FO bridges, with 428 of the state’s 1,163 total bridges ranked as such. Thirty-eight percent (290) of the state’s 771 total interstate and state bridges are considered SD/FO, and 35 percent (138) of the 392 total city/county/township bridges are SD/FO.

Paul Santo, bridge design engineer for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, says his agency expects to lower its number of SD/FO bridges. “We have several bridges scheduled for construction or under construction that should fractionally reduce the number [of SD/FO bridges],” Santo reports. “Condition-wise, we only have about 7 percent that are structurally deficient and few fracture critical bridges.”

Connecticut ranks just after Hawaii at 36 percent of its combined total bridges as being SD/FO. The state has 4,203 total bridges and 1,508 are considered SD/FO. In terms of total interstate and state bridges, 1,094 (37 percent) total interstate and state bridges (2,952) are classified as SD/FO. Thirty-three percent (414) of it total city/county/township bridges (1,251) are SD/FO.

West Virginia has 7,049 total bridges, with 2,375 (34 percent) of the combined total being SD/FO. Thirty-three percent (2,297 bridges) of the state’s total interstate and state bridges (6,936) are SD/FO, but when analyzing the total city/county/township bridges (113), 69 percent (78) are found to be SD/FO. This is the highest percentage of combined total SD/FO bridges in the nation for city/county/township bridges.

Kentucky, North Carolina and Vermont are all on equal footing at 29 percent of combined total SD/FO bridges. Of these states, North Carolina has the highest percentage of total SD/FO bridges. Thirty percent (5,150) of North Carolina’s total interstate and state bridges (17,426) are rated as SD/FO. This is followed by Kentucky at 27 percent (2,414) of the state’s 8,976 total state and interstate bridges and Vermont at 25 percent (268) of the state’s 1,089 total interstate and state bridges. In terms of total city/county/township bridges, Kentucky also ranks the highest at 33 percent (1,655) of the state’s 4,969 total city/county/township bridges being considered SD/FO. North Carolina is 11 percentage points lower at 22 percent (189) of the state’s 866 total city/county/township bridges. Vermont is 10 percent more at 32 percent (511) of the state’s total 1,622 city/county/township bridges fitting the SD/FO definition.

Louisiana and New Hampshire both come in at 28 percent for the combined total of SD/FO bridges. Louisiana has 12,905 bridges in the state and 3,588 of them are SD/FO. Its total interstate and state bridges (7,906) have a 27 percent (2,099) rate of being SD/FO. At the city/county/township level, that number is 30 percent (1,489 of 4,999 are SD/FO). Its shared spot with New Hampshire of overall SD/FO bridges differs at the state and local level. New Hampshire has an SD/FO rate of 21 percent (316 of 1,512 total interstate and state bridges) and a 40 percent SD/FO rate (396 of 994) of total city/county/township bridges.

Here is a five-year look at America's bridges. (Click the image for a closer look.)

Here is a five-year look at America’s bridges. (Click the image for a closer look.)

Maine and Washington State are tied at 26 percent of combined total SD/FO bridges. Maine has 2,313 total bridges with 596 of them rated as SD/FO. Washington has 7,319 bridges, and 1,875 of them are SD/FO. Breaking it down to the state level, Maine has a lower percentage – 25 percent (513 of 2,088 total interstate and state bridges) – of total SD/FO bridges than Washington, which has a 31 percent (1,007 of 3,296) of total interstate and state bridges that are SD/FO. At the city/county/township level, Maine has a higher percentage of SD/FO bridges at 37 percent (83 of a total 225 bridges). Washington State’s percentage of total SD/FO bridges at the city/county/township level is 22 percent (868 of 4,023).

Next come Iowa, Maryland, Missouri and New Jersey, which all have a 25 percent rate of total SD/FO bridges. Of these states, New Jersey has the highest percentage of SD/FO total interstate and state bridges with 554 or 2,408 bridges meeting this classification. (New Jersey was also socked by Superstorm Sandy last year on Oct. 29, 2012, causing massive destruction, including bridges and roads. Estimates as of June 2013 assess damage to have been more $68 billion, which was only surpassed by Hurricane Katrina.) Missouri’s percentage of SD/FO total interstate and state bridges is 20 percent (2,081 of 10,364), followed by Maryland at 19 percent (565 of 2,950) and Iowa at 9 percent (374 of 4,119). In terms of total city/county/township bridges that are SD/FO, Maryland has 32 percent (728 of 2,292), with Iowa and Missouri ranking at 28 percent (3,936 of 13,951 bridges in Missouri and 5,729 of 20,242 bridges in Iowa). New Jersey has the fewest SD/FO total city/county township bridges of this group, with 27 percent (1,106 of 4,145 meeting this classification).

Michigan and South Dakota are also tied at 24 percent for the number of combined total SD/FO bridges. Michigan has 2,586 of its 10,944 bridges considered SD/FO. South Dakota has 1,410 of its total 5,771 bridges considered as SD/FO. Although the overall percentage of SD/FO is the same, the two states greatly differ when it comes to total interstate and state SD/FO bridges. Michigan’s rate is 21 percent (918 of 4,425) and South Dakota’s is 10 percent (177 of 1,796 total interstate and state bridges.) However, total city/county/township bridges aren’t too different percentage-wise, with South Dakota having 31 percent (1,233 of 3,975) of its total city/county/township bridges considered SD/FO and Michigan coming in five percentage points less at 26 percent (1,668 or 6,519) of these bridges being SD/FO.

Continuing in the group percentage trend is Nebraska, Oklahoma and Virginia with 23 percent of each state’s bridges being classified as SD/FO. Nebraska has 15,086 bridges and 3,456 are considered SD/FO. Oklahoma has 22,876 total bridges and 5,344 are SD/FO. Virginia has 20,983 total bridges, 4,881 of which are SD/FO. Virginia has highest percentage of interstate and state bridges of this group of states at 22 percent (4,349 of 19,343), followed by Oklahoma at 14 percent (1,108 or 7,664) then Nebraska (247 of 3,521 considered as SD/FO). The numbers are also fairly similar in terms of total SD/FO total city/county/township bridges with Virginia having a rate of 32 percent (532 of 1,640). This is followed by Nebraska and Oklahoma, which both have a 28 percent (4,236 of 15,212 for Oklahoma, 3,209 of 11,565 of Nebraska total city/county/township bridges) rate of total city/county township bridges that are SD/FO.

Alaska and Oregon both have a 22 percent rate of a combined total SD/FO bridges. Alaska has 983 bridges, 214 of which are SD/FO. Oregon has 6,747 bridges, and 1,487 are considered SD/FO. There is a six percent different between the two states for the rate of total interstate and state bridges that are SD/FO. Twenty-six percent (705 of 2,714) of Oregon’s total interstate and state bridges are SD/FO, compared to Alaska’s 20 percent (164 of 830) of SD/FO bridges. When it comes to total city/county/township bridges that are SD/FO, Alaska ranks higher than Oregon with 33 percent of these bridges (50 of 153 for Alaska) classified as SD/FO. Oregon’s percentage of total city/county/township bridges is 19 percent (783 of 4,033)

Alabama ranks almost right in the middle of the nation’s percentage of SD/FO bridges at 21 percent of its total bridges rated as SD/FO. It comes in at No. 27, but the next four states – Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio and South Carolina – also rank at that same percentage, 21 percent, with the total number of combined total SD/FO bridges.

Arkansas, Delaware and North Dakota, Nos. 32 through 34 in terms of the highest percentage of total SD/FO bridges, these states are all at 19 percent, again with the number of total interstate/state and total city/county/township percentage of SD/FO bridges differing.

Eric J. Christie, assistant state maintenance engineer of bridges for the Alabama Department of Transportation, says that like many other states funding availability is one of the greatest challenges in lowering the state rate of total combined SD/FO bridges, but the use of bonds has been approved to target the replacement of deficient county and municipal bridges, which will allow the state to lower its overall rate of total combined SD/FO bridges (21 percent).

Annual Bridge Inventory Since 1985 - Summary by Year (Click the image for a closer look.)

Annual Bridge Inventory Since 1985 – Summary by Year (Click the image for a closer look.)

Nos. 36 and 37 on the list, Georgia and Idaho, have 18 percent of their total SD/FO bridges considered as SD/FO. Kansas and Texas are at 17 percent for total SD/FO bridges, followed by Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Montana and Tennessee all at 16 percent of combined total SD/FO bridges. New Mexico comes in at 15 percent of total combined SD/FO bridges, followed by Wisconsin at 14 percent and Minnesota and Wyoming at 13 percent. Arizona, Utah and Nevada are all at 11 percent of total combined SD/FO bridges and California is at 6 percent. However, it must be noted in reporting its data to Better Roads, functionally obsolete bridges were not included. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) noted, “The federal classification of functionally obsolete was eliminated with the passage of MAP-21 and is no longer reported.”

Despite FO bridges not being included, the numbers are still a good sign. “Aggressive bridge preservation efforts have allowed us to begin to lower the number of structurally deficient bridges,” notes Michael B. Johnson, P.E., chief of specialty investigations and bridge management for Caltrans.

Overall, the nation’s percent of SD/FO bridges has slowly and steadily fallen, but the main obstacle to better bridges remains funding.

For past “Better Bridges” reports, visit BetterBridges.com.


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