It’s not just gigantic dams and spillways that we need to worry about. Those of us who regularly use the nation’s interstate highway system should be thinking about whether that bridge that our car is rolling across is safe, too — because a recently released report has concluded that thousands of our bridges are structurally deficient.
OK, perhaps we should read this report with a healthy grain of salt, because the source is the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. Getting a report from the ARTBA about whether more bridge repair and construction projects should be funded is like getting a restaurant review from the head chef — you’ve got to think that there’s a bit of self-interest lurking in there somewhere.
Still, the report is based on Department of Transportation data, which scores all bridges on a nine-point scale. Here’s an amazing statistic: 173,919 of the bridges in the U.S. — more than one in four — are at least 50 years old and have never had major reconstruction work. I know they built things well back in the ’50s and ’60s, but 50 years of carrying increasing loads of cars and trucks over rivers and inlet and gorges, without an overhaul, seems like an extremely long time. The report also concludes that more than 55,000 bridges in America are structurally deficient and 13,000 bridges on our interstates need to be replaced, widened, or repaired.
So, our interstate highway system needs work — and by the way we need to figure out how to fund that work, because the increasing fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks means that the gas tax is producing less revenue than expected. And we need to get local and state governments, who haven’t been carrying their share of the maintenance load, off the dime, too.
I’m sure I’ve driven over dozens of the bridges on the ARTBA’s “deficient bridges” list, without being aware of the structural deficiency issues. Let’s hope that people pay some attention to this particular area of infrastructure need, before we have another catastrophic bridge collapse that finally spurs people into doing what they should have been doing for years now.