Analysis Finds Structurally Deficient Bridges 'Need to Be Fixed' ASAP

Nearly 59,000 U.S. bridges rate "poor" for one of three key elements.

ByABC News
February 18, 2016, 5:53 PM

— -- The Brooklyn Bridge, Washington, D.C.’s Memorial Bridge and Illinois’ Centennial Bridge are three of the most used and most famous bridges in the country.

They are also just three of the nearly 59,000 bridges in the United States that federal officials deem “structurally deficient.”

The bridges are safe for drivers now, but officials have found significant flaws in the structures that need to be repaired, according to a just-released analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation data from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

If placed end to end, the deck surface of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges would stretch from New York City to Miami (1,340 miles), says ARTBA, a trade association that advocates for improved transportation infrastructure.

That’s just under 10 percent of the nation’s approximately 610,000 bridges, although there were 2,574 fewer structurally deficient bridges last year than in 2014, according to the data.

Cars, trucks, school buses and first responders are traveling over them nearly 204 million times a day, so the “structurally deficient” designation has drawn attention.

Alison Premo Black, ARTBA’s chief economist, who conducted the analysis, says a bridge is classified as structurally deficient when one of the key elements of the structure receives a “poor” rating. The key elements are the substructure, the deck and the super structure.

“These bridges need to be fixed so they don’t get to a point where they are unsafe for the traveling public,” Black told ABC News.

Departments of Transportation at the state level are doing everything they can to fix them, she said, but budget constraints hold back their efforts.

One catastrophic failure in particular often comes to mind in discussions about bridge collapses in the United States. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.

That failure, according to the National transportation Safety Board, resulted from an overlooked design flaw.

Almost all the 250 most heavily crossed structurally deficient bridges are on urban highways, particularly in California, according to the data, with nearly 85 percent being built before 1970.

Iowa, with 5,025, Pennsylvania, with 4,783, and Oklahoma, with 3,776, have the most structurally deficient bridges.