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Transportation Infrastructure ~ Bridges


Bridges ~ Part of the Nation's Transportation Infrastructure

Transportation across the United States is a vital link in the nation's economy, and therefore part of its infrastructure.  There are various parts to the transportation system, including highways, railways, and inland waterways that further rely on individual components to make them work.  These include bridges, roads, dams, locks, canals, and electricity.  Each piece in this intricate system must be properly maintained and work as designed in order to avoid negative economic impacts.

Some of the problems that are likely to occur when a component fails are traffic detours, delays due to single lanes or construction, increased travel time, and reduced capacity.  These negatively impact the economy by adding additional travel hours, increase fuel costs, create traffic congestion with more emissions, and delays the delivery of goods.  The domino effect means that raw materials or goods being delivered to organizations takes longer, delaying production or preventing projects from being able to move forward.

Bridges (both road and rail) are vital to each of the transportation systems as they span rivers, bays, gullies, gaps, mountain passes, and various other chasms that would be time consuming and costly to go around.  In some instances, bridges provide the fastest, best, or only way to span a gap and make it possible to cross over a space, such as with the Mississippi River.

Aging Bridges Are Structurally Deficient and Functionally Obsolete

Like the nation's dams, roadway bridges within the country are aging and the maintenance and repair of them has been steadily declining.  In their 2013 Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated bridges across the nation at a C+.  Unless something changes, this grade will continue to deteriorate as bridges age, with more of them becoming structurally deficient, or in urgent need of repair or replacement.  They may also be listed as functionally obsolete which means they fall short of current engineering standards including load limits and narrow lanes.

Here are a few things to consider about the current status of the nation's bridges:

  • There are 607,380 bridges in the United States
  • The average bridge age is 43 years old
  • As with dams, bridges were designed with a lifespan of ~ 50 years
  • Today, 1 in 9 are structurally deficient
  • In 10 years, that number will increase to 1 in 4
  • There are a total of 66,405 structurally deficient bridges
  • That's a total of 1,500 miles of bridges
  • 260 Million trips are made over these bridges daily
  • That's 180,000 trips a minute, every day
  • The average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 65 years
  • In 15 states, structurally deficient bridge numbers have increased since 2011
  • Since 1996, there has been a steady decline in the number of repaired or replaced bridges
  • In 2012, Congress eliminated the dedicated bridge repair fund
  • Now, only 10% of structurally deficient bridges qualify for funding under the new program

Did you make a trip over one of these bridges today?  The American Society of Civil Engineers offers a map that shows structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges by county in each state.  The numbers are eye opening and clearly show how much work needs to be done.  As my colleague Randall asserts, "the infrastructure bill is due."

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.