More than 70,000 bridges rated deficient
More than 70,000 bridges rated deficient
By H. JOSEF HEBERT and SHARON THEIMER, Associated
Press Writers Thu Aug 2, 7:03 PM ET
WASHINGTON - More than 70,000 bridges across the
country are rated structurally deficient like the span
that collapsed in Minneapolis, and engineers estimate
repairing them all would take at least a generation
and cost more than $188 billion.
That works out to at least $9.4 billion a year over 20
years, according to the American Society of Civil
The bridges carry an average of more than 300 million
vehicles a day.
It is unclear how many of the spans pose actual safety
risks. Federal officials alerted the states late
Thursday to immediately inspect all bridges similar to
the Mississippi River span that collapsed.
In a separate cost estimate, the Federal Highway
Administration has said addressing the backlog of
needed bridge repairs would take at least $55 billion.
That was five years ago, with expectations of more
deficiencies to come.
It is money that Congress, the federal government and
the states have so far been unable or unwilling to
"We're not doing what the engineers are saying we need
to be doing," said Gregory Cohen, president of the
American Highway Users Alliance, an advocacy group
representing a wide range of motorists.
"Unfortunately when you consistently underinvest in
roads and bridges ... this is the dangerous
consequence," Cohen said of Wednesday's deadly
Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He
said engineers have estimated $75 billion a year is
needed just to keep highways and bridges from further
deterioration, but that only around $60 billion a year
is being provided.
Last year, 75,422 of the nation's 597,562 bridges, or
about 12.6 percent, were classified as "structurally
deficient," including some built as recently as the
early 1990s, according to the Federal Highway
The federal government provides 80 percent of the
money for construction, repair and maintenance of the
so-called federal-aid highway system including
Interstate highways and bridges. But states set
priorities and handle construction and maintenance
A bridge is typically judged structurally deficient if
heavy trucks are banned from it or there are other
weight restrictions, if it needs immediate work to
stay open or if it is closed. In any case, such a
bridge is considered in need of considerable
maintenance, rehabilitation or even replacement.
Congressional leaders say the number of bridges in
need of repair is too high and the funding too low.
There is crumbling infrastructure all over the
country, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,
D-Nev. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who heads the
Senate panel that controls transportation spending,
said the Bush administration has threatened vetoes
when Democrats try to increase such spending.
White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel,
declined to address spending and accused the Democrats
of using the bridge collapse for partisan purposes.
Democrats were not alone in calling for more bridge
"People think they're saving money by not investing in
infrastructure, and the result is you have
catastrophes like this," said Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis.,
a member of the House transportation committee.
The federal government is now providing about $40
billion a year to improve and expand the nation's
highways and bridges.
The main source of revenue for roads and bridges, the
federal highway trust fund, is failing to keep up with
spending demand. The 18.3 cents a gallon in federal
taxes hasn't changed since 1993, and the demand for
more fuel-efficient vehicles could affect fuel
Funding isn't the only issue getting attention after
the Minnesota collapse.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in an
interview with The Associated Press that she had asked
her department's inspector general to evaluate the
agency's overall bridge inspections.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, most
bridges in the U.S. Highway Bridge Inventory 83
percent are inspected every two years. About 12
percent, those in bad shape, are inspected annually,
and 5 percent, those in very good shape, every four
The Department of Transportation's inspector general
last year criticized the Highway Administration's
oversight of interstate bridges. The March 2006 report
said investigators found incorrect or outdated maximum
weight calculations and weight limit postings in the
National Bridge Inventory and in states' bridge
databases and said the problems could pose safety
hazards. The Highway Administration agreed that
improvements in its oversight of state bridge
inspections and data were needed.
Incorrect load ratings could endanger bridges by
allowing heavier vehicles to cross than should, and
could affect whether a bridge is properly identified
as structurally deficient in the first place, the
inspector general said.
The audit didn't identify any Minnesota bridges or
mention the state beyond noting that 3 percent of its
bridges were structurally deficient, placing it at the
low end among states. It said those bridges were
crossed by an average of 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles a
day, putting it 13th among the states.
An analysis of 2006 Federal Highway Administration
data found that Minnesota bridges were generally in
better shape than those in other states. Only about 6
percent of the state's 20,000 bridges were listed as
being structurally deficient. In Oklahoma, nearly 27
percent of bridges were cited by the federal
government as being structurally deficient.
In Nemaha County in southeastern Nebraska, about 58
percent of 194 bridges are structurally deficient.
More than 55 percent of neighboring Pawnee County's
188 bridges are in the same shape. Of the 10 worst-off
counties for bridges, seven are in Oklahoma or
On the other end of the scale, at least 10 counties
with a significant number of bridges have none that
are structurally deficient, according to the latest
government statistics. A half-dozen of those are in
Several governors on Wednesday ordered state
transportation officials to inspect particular bridges
or review their inspection procedures.
Beyond Minnesota, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said
his state doesn't have any bridges similar to the
Minneapolis bridge but he had asked state officials to
review inspection procedures. Presidential hopeful and
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ordered an inspection
of several steel-truss bridges in the state. Arizona
Gov. Janet Napolitano directed state transportation
officials to conduct a statewide review, starting with
highly traveled bridges in urban areas.
Associated Press writers Jim Abrams, Julie Hirschfeld
Davis and Jennifer Kerr in Washington and Frank Bass
in East Dover, Vt., contributed to this report.