Bridges: Feds need to get serious

Published Aug 11, 2017 at 4:00pm

This week marked the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn. That tragedy, in which 13 people died and 145 were injured, was seen as a wake-up call to the nation about our aging and deficient infrastructure.

Unfortunately, despite a decade in which to act, most of the nation has done very little to upgrade its infrastructure.

According to the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), the United States has 614,387 bridges. Four in 10 are 50 years old or older. In 2016, just over 56,000 of the nation’s bridges were considered structurally deficient. A highway bridge is classified as structurally deficient if the deck, superstructure, substructure, or culvert is rated in “poor” condition by the Federal Highway Administration. A bridge can also be classified as structurally deficient if its load carrying capacity is significantly below current design standards or if a waterway frequently overflows on the bridge during floods.

The ASCE estimates that on average there are 188 million trips across a structurally deficient bridge each day. The average age of America’s bridges continues to rise. Many are approaching or have reached the end of their design life. According to ASCE, the nation would need to invest more than $123 billion dollars to repair or replace those bridges.

In 2008, in the aftermath of the bridge collapse, the Minnesota Legislature passed a program to repair or replace all of the state’s crumbling bridges. That state has made significant progress. In 2008 172 bridges were rated as structurally deficient. Since then, 120 bridges have been completed, including 100 new bridges. Thirty-five have been sufficiently repaired and 18 more will be completed by the end of 2018.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the country has done very little to update their structurally deficient bridges. Some states, like Minnesota, are beginning to address the problem on their own. But many need help from the federal government.

That is why we hope that President Trump and Congress are serious about an infrastructure improvement program for the nation’s roads and bridges. It should not take another tragedy with more lives lost before the government acts.