My rural state of Iowa has more public road miles than the combined total interstate miles in all 50 states. Of our 24,242 bridges spanning at least 20 ft carrying highway traffic, 5025 are structurally deficient (20.7%). We are 1st in the nation in number and 3rd in percentage according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2016 National Bridge Inventory. The data is presented by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in Washington DC.
This photograph shows a public bridge at least 20 ft long which suffered complete failure for a variety of reasons including deterioration with age and an excessive load. The flaws of bridges can be hidden from view. They need qualified inspectors who know what engineering points to examine.
Structurally Deficient does not mean the bridge is in immediate danger of collapse. But, it does need attention. The quote below from the Iowa Department of Transportation explains the term. According to the IA DoT inspection manual page I-24, routine inspections are not to exceed intervals of 24 months. This federal standard may be less if bridge conditions and traffic warrant. It may also be extended to 48 months based on certain criteria.
The phrases “structurally deficient,” “functionally obsolete” and “sufficiency rating” are federal terms used to identify bridges eligible for funding assistance under the federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. Structurally deficient refers to bridges needing significant maintenance attention, rehabilitation or replacement. Functionally obsolete refers to bridges with deck geometry (e.g., lane width, shoulder widths), load carrying capacity, vertical clearance or approach roadway alignment that no longer meet the criteria for the system of which the bridge is a part.
What About Your State?
Either click on this National Bridge Inventory, or follow this link to a national map and click on your state for the data. Despite billions of dollars in annual federal, state and local funds directed toward maintenance of the nation’s 609,539 bridges, 58,495 (9.6%) are classified as “structurally deficient” requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.
Within 10 Miles of You
Click the linked image below for a closer look at your locality. Type in a zip code or specific address to look at the individual bridges within a 10 mile radius of your location. The specific locations of bridges on the 10 mile radius map rely on the latitude and longitude provided by states. Data source explanation.
What Can You Do?
Long range planning for the improvements to our bridges calls for a comprehensive approach. The problem of our crumbling infrastructure will not go away. We have already had one major disaster with the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007. It had been cited 17 years earlier as structurally deficient.
Cuts to funding, shortages in state and county budgets, reduced revenues, and lack of initiative by public officials have worsened the outlook for our national and local infrastructure of bridges and highways. Plus, below many of our roads and bridges are decades old water, sewer, and other utility lines.
These structures don’t last forever and they don’t fix their own problems.
Take time to contact your national, state, and local elected officials. Let them know how you feel about the importance of having safe bridges in your community. Let them know if you think this issue deserves a longer and more comprehensive approach in the future. Ask them who they expect to fix the problems. Are they passing the problem along to our children and grandchildren?