U.S. bridges: the emergency in numbers

The american road & transport builders association sounds the alarm: over 47,000 bridges are at risk and the repair bill is $171 billion

More than 47,000 bridges at risk and 235,000 in urgent need of repair. That is the worrisome conclusion made by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in a recently published report, the latest confirmation of the sorry state of U.S. infrastructure. Even Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives recently announced plans to discuss the matter with President Donald Trump, upping the ante in terms of investments needed by calling for not $1 trillion but $2 trillion in spending.

The ARTBA study

On April 9, the ARTBA published its "2019 Bridge Report", mapping the state of health of the more than 600,000 bridges throughout the country. The study, which is based on the numbers contained in the "2018 National Bridge Inventory" conducted by the Department of Transportation, found that 47,052 bridges are «structurally deficient», or equal to 7.6% of the 616,087 bridges in the United States. This is a high percentage, especially since these “deficient” structures are part of strategic transport nodes, crossed every day by millions of vehicles.

The case of Rhode Island

It is the smallest state in the country, but this is not the only record it holds. Rhode Island is also the state with the highest percentage of risky bridges. Out of a total of 780, 180 (equal to 23.1% of the total) show structural deficiencies due to poor maintenance and «need attention». West Virginia is only slightly better, according to ARTBA. Nearly 20% of its bridges would be at risk, or 1,444 out of a total of 7,269.

The most virtuous states

Although, in general terms, the infrastructure deficit is very high, some states have taken significant steps in recent years to greatly reduce the number of risky bridges.
Pennsylvania is cited as the best state. In the last five years, it has taken steps to restore 1,199 bridges. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has 900 renovated bridges, Indiana 593, California 576 and Ohio 499.

It would take 80 years to make all the bridges safe

The bridges indicated by the Department of Transportation as being in need of work have an average age of 62 years compared with the 40 years for those considered safe. But this work is not being carried out because, according to the ARBTA, only 1% of existing structural deficiencies have been resolved. If the repairs continue at this rate, it would take 80 years just to solve the current problems.

A national issue

The bridges at risk are 7.6% of the total, but a lot more of them need maintenance. The ARTBA identified 235,020, or 38% of the total number of bridges. These bridges need to be repaired because of their age. So the problem is widespread, and has implications for national security. Every day, in fact, 178 million people in the United States cross the bridges that the ARTBA says are at risk, and at least one motorway bridge in three needs urgent action.

How much does it cost to restore bridges?

Taking as a starting point the total of 235,000 bridges that it estimates need maintenance, the ARTBA calculates the necessary investment would amount to $171 billion dollars.

Icons of the past at risk

Most of the bridges at risk are those found on some of the busiest transport routes in the United States. These include Route 101, Interstate 405 and Interstate 5, especially in California. What is striking is the structural decay of some of the country's most iconic bridges. Among them, reports ARTBA, are New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, the Washington, D.C., Memorial Bridge, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge (the longest in California that crosses the San Francisco Bay), and the Pensacola Bay Bridge of Florida.