New data generated from the U.S. Department of Transportation has revealed that more than 54,000 American bridges are structurally deficient. America has 612,677 bridges.
Americans cross these bridges 174 million times daily.
One in three bridges are in need of repair, and one in three Interstate highway bridges have also been flagged as needing maintenance.
Dr. Alison Premo Black, Chief Economist for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, who led the research, said that it would take 37 years, at the current rate of repair, to fix or replace structurally deficient bridges in America.
The figures were released just in time for the President of the United States Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. In the address, he suggested that what America needs is a US$1.5 trillion in investment into infrastructure in the next decade. President Trump said:
“Together, we can reclaim our great building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land.”
President Trump has encouraged Congress to stimulate the budget for the infrastructural maintenance required to fully restore America’s infrastructure. Jason Lange, a reporter at Reuters, says that the situation is not as bad as President Trump asserts. Lange said:
“The view that roads, bridges, other pieces of U.S. infrastructure are failing, they’re crumbling - it’s a bit overblown. We’ve analyzed federal data on highway bridges; there’s more than 600,000 of them. And, about just under 9% are deemed structurally deficient, which means, they need repairs. That sounds like a large number, but actually, it’s been falling for decades. It was above 20% in the early 1990s.”
He also says that only 4% of the bridges that see the highest number of daily crossings are in need of repairs – a fairly low number. But the bridges that have failed in the U.S. have reportedly been those with the least daily crossings.
How to keep the built environment in the U.S. structurally sound is complex.
Historical infrastructural shortcomings
In 2007, with the collapse of Mississippi’s I-35W bridge, it was evident that America had a crumbling infrastructure problem. The collapse caused the deaths of 13 people.
When Hurricane Harvey descended on the U.S. in August 2017, America’s infrastructure shortcomings were highlighted once again. You can read our report here: Hurricane Harvey: Engineering industries confront the flooding and infrastructure needs for the future. Floods due to bad storm water draining is something that New Orleans still struggles with to this day - even after the lessons supposedly learned after Hurricane Katrina.
It has been a problem that has persisted, and is something that President Trump has promised he would rectify. The American Society of Civil Engineers has asserted that water facilities may need more attention than bridges in the short-term.
The silver lining: engineers and industry workers will be employed in the next ten years - working to strengthen America’s infrastructure. There may not be a trillion dollars of investment, but what engineers can be sure about, is that they will share in billions of dollars in infrastructure investment in the next decade. It is something America sorely needs - both Democrats and Republicans agree about that.
American Road & Transportation Builders Association. “Over 54,000 American Bridges Structurally Deficient, Analysis of New Federal Data Shows.” PR Newswire: News Distribution, Targeting and Monitoring, 29 Jan. 2018, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/over-54000-american-bridges-structurally-deficient-analysis-of-new-federal-data-shows-300589542.html.
Lange, Jason, and Katanga Johnson; “Crumbling Bridges? Fret Not America, It's Not That Bad.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 31 Jan. 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-bridges/crumbling-bridges-fret-not-america-its-not-that-bad-idUSKBN1FK0J0.