Poor Condition of U.S. Bridges Hits Close to Home: Missouri Ranks 4th in Nation in Structurally Deficient Bridges

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The length of the nation’s nearly 56,000 structurally deficient bridges if placed end-to-end would stretch 1,276 miles, or half the distance from New York to Los Angeles, a new examination of federal government data by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) shows.  There are 185 million daily crossings on nearly 56,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges. About 1,900 of those bridges are on the Interstate Highway System.

It’s a problem that hits very close to home. More than 3,190 bridges in Missouri, or 13.1 percent of the state’s inventory, are “structurally deficient,” according to ARTBA’s fourth annual analysis of the latest U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) National Bridge Inventory database. Drivers in our state cross these bridges 5,068,727 times a day.

The 2016 figure of 3,190 bridges is down from 3,222 in 2015. Missouri ranks 4th in the nation in terms of the number of structurally deficient bridges and 11thwhen considering structurally deficient bridges as a percent of total inventory. Nationwide, an average of 9 percent are structurally deficient.

According to ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black, the report’s key takeaway—and the most important thing to focus on—is that 1,900 bridges on the National Highway Freight Network are structurally deficient. “That’s America’s Economic Expressway,” Black said. “Bridge failures or restrictions on that 66,000-mile network should not be an option. Those bridges and the freight network overall should be the focal point of any new federal infrastructure initiative that emerges. Improving its performance and minimizing the chance of any major disruptions on it would provide big and recurring economic returns.”

State-specific information from the analysis—including rankings and the locations of the 250 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the nation and top 25 most heavily traveled in each state—is available on ARTBA’s website.

It is imperative that members of the U.S. Congress turn their attention to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, especially the National Highway Freight Network.  At the same time, Missouri legislators need to create long-term, sustainable funding for the state’s road and bridges.

One only needs to remember the Aug. 1, 2007, I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis to understand that the safety of drivers and passengers who transverse these structurally deficient bridges every day are at stake. MoDOT does an excellent job of monitoring and prioritizing repairs on Missouri’s bridges and roads, but their resources have been cut back dramatically.  At the same time, our roads and bridges are further deteriorating.

To learn more about the issue and how the U.S. funds its infrastructure click here.

Leonard Toenjes, CAE, is president of the Associated General Contractors of Missouri.  AGCMO is the Missouri affiliate of Washington, D.C.-based ARTBA.

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