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More than 70,000 bridges rated deficient

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070802/ap_on_re_us/bridge_safety;_ylt=AqwIcqMrm0HfEGAnhiK0BX1H2ocA More than 70,000 bridges rated deficient By H. JOSEF HEBERT and
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2007

      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.
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