States Must Step Up Bridge Repair Funding, Report Says
By John Nagy, Staff Writer
Incremental improvements on the nations roadway bridges have left nearly three in ten in need of renovation or repair and states may need to pick up more of the tab, according to a new independent analysis of Federal Highway Administration data.
"'Crisis' is probably a strong word, but it is a concern," said Paul Haaland of The Road Information Program (TRIP), a non-profit highway research group based in Washington, D.C., which conducted the analysis of data collected through December 1999.
"None of the bridges on the [FHWA] list are in imminent danger of collapsing. We're not talking about dangerous bridges and loss of life. We're talking about ... deficient bridges that need investment by the states and federal government in order to maintain and improve them," Haaland said.
State and federal government bridge expenditures stand at about $6.1 billion annually. TRIP's conclusions, released June 7, support recent indications from the U.S. Department of Transportation that an additional $4.5 billion would be needed each year for the next 20 years to substantially reduce the number of flawed structures.
"Those states with high percentages of deficient bridges will need additional funding at the state level to go along with federal increases if they are to adequately address their needed bridge repairs or improvements," TRIP executive director William M. Wilkins said in a press release.
State highway officials seem prepared to concede the point, but only partially. "TRIP has performed a valuable service in terms of focusing attention on this area," said spokeswoman Sunny Schust of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
But Schust is quick to point to jurisdictional differences found in older USDOT data sets that are not delineated in the TRIP report. While one in three locally maintained bridges needs work, the percentage of outdated interstate bridges is significantly lower, about 4.1 percent, she said.
"States are focusing attention on those bridges that are most active and most heavily utilized by the public, but certainly there is a backlog of bridges that need to be addressed," Schust said.
At least half of the bridges in Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are "deficient" either structurally unsound or out-of-sync with current road construction standards according to the report.
More than a third of the bridges in fourteen more states fall into the same category. Those states are Alabama, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia.
Among states with the fewest deficient bridges were Arizona (10 percent) Delaware, Minnesota and Nevada (each at 16 percent).
Haaland said that the preponderance of eastern states at the bottom of the list reflected the relative age of their highway and bridge systems and the density of their population and traffic.
USDOT recently released the 1999 Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance report , a compilation of 1998 transportation data. TRIP's analysis used a special 1999 data set released by USDOT that the federal agency will develop this year.
An FHWA spokesman declined to comment on the TRIP report.