Federal funding for bridge-repairing projects is now critical to public safety, according to transportation experts at the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
Now, these leaders are pushing for the Biden administration and Congress to allocate federal funding to improve these deteriorating bridges, as current funds available to states for bridge projects still fail to include full transportation appropriations outlined within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
This legislation was passed in November 2021, and the most recent spending solution–which made funds available for certain surface transportation projects–ended in mid-February. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $27.5 billion was set to be offered to states for bridge repair needs throughout the next five years. However, if spending approval is pushed back, project start dates will be further delayed–perhaps to the detriment of driver safety.
“We urge Congress to act forthwith so that the American people can begin to realize the benefits of the historic investments in the bipartisan infrastructure law,” said president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, Dave Bauer.
This funding is indeed historic, and considered nearly unprecedented by many transportation organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers. However, it still may not be enough for all the improvements truly needed throughout the country.
As ASCE’s president-elect Maria Lehman put it, the investment is a “major plus-up,” and “a great start, but it’s not the silver bullet.” In fact, the funding should have been released earlier, as “infrastructure is a system of systems,” Lehman continued. ”It’s the weak link that brings everything down.”
Although bridges deemed to be in “fair” condition can just undergo repairs, if a bridge is considered to be in “poor” condition, it needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Currently, 36% of all 224,000 American bridges either need repair or replacement–78,800 of those need full replacement, according to ARTBA’s 2022 Bridge Report, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory database.
The states with the highest number of bridges classified as being in “poor” condition are: Iowa, with 4,504 such bridges; Pennsylvania,with 3,198; Illinois, with 2,405; Oklahoma, with 2,296; Missouri, with 2,218; New York, with 1,672; Louisiana, with 1,631; California, with 1,493; West Virginia, with 1,490; and Ohio, with 1,334.
“Our infrastructure is always there, doing its job,” said Lehman. “It’s not until something goes drastically wrong that people pay attention. Civil engineering failure is front and center because it’s important to people.”
Truckers should also be diligent in paying attention to bridge load postings, as this is a major aspect of overall bridge safety, Lehman added.
“Maybe it won’t collapse [if your truck has a heavier weight than allowed], but you are straining it,” she said.
Various organizational leaders collaborated on a letter sent to congressional lawmakers in February in an effort to persuade them to pass timely appropriations for the 2022 fiscal year, as a method of instilling “confidence in our residents as we navigate through the ongoing pandemic.”
The letter was signed by prominent members of the Council of State Governments, the International City and County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“The [Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act] represents a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure, and Congress must ensure that these new resources are made available to state, territory, and local governments as intended under the law,” said the group leaders in their letter.
Additionally, local municipalities, along with state transportation departments, should find ways of boosting their funding availability by utilizing economies of scale. For example, choosing bridge improvement projects within one regional area could bring lower overall administrative costs, Lehman explained.
“It’s really important that we start to think of system solutions instead of one-off solutions,“ she noted.