Structurally Deficient Bridges

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.


Photo courtesy of Audubon County Iowa


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.


Collaboration by Transportation for America and Culturegraphic Interactive


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?

25 thoughts on “Structurally Deficient Bridges

  1. Love the 10-mile radius map. Florida is looking relatively good it seems, but there are a couple deficient bridges in my area.


  2. One bridge listed for my town is out of date as it was just rebuilt last year.

    On the evening of June 27th, 1983, I traveled down Route 95 toward NYC which took me across the Mianus Bridge in Greenwich, CT to visit Mary Beth in Pennsylvania during our “courtship”. The next morning we awoke to new of this:

    We are really no different here in WMass. Lots of bridges need attention just like everywhere else in the U.S. It seems that no matter how much politicians talk about fixing our infrastructure, and eventually how much gets funded, the work doesn’t happen. Most of the places listed for WMass in the county list are for Route 91 which travels through Springfield. Those have had millions spent on patching and resurfacing and only now are they actually rebuilding the elevated sections that have been repaired.


    • What an awful experience that must have been to realize what might have happened to you. It could have cost many more lives if it had come at a busy time of day.

      Thank you for the video and your story. I’m glad you were not harmed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Our first response was about how close I came to being involved. Then, of course, the concern and sadness for those who were. Imagine the shock of the person who stopped just short after seeing the truck disappear. And the people in the boats below witnessing this. There have been greater tragedies involving many more people, but this was still quite an awful situation.


  3. I find it hard to shake my deep cynicism about this subject.

    You mentioned that the I-35 bridge was known to be structurally deficient for 17 years but in the meantime, the feds, the state, Hennipin County and the City of Minneapolis got together to build the Hiawatha Light Rail Line on a corridor that couldn’t support a single bus line. The cost of the line was $850 million. The cost of replacing the I-35 bridge under normal circumstances was about a quarter of that. The cost for replacing the bridge on a tight timeline was about half that.

    Why would anyone build a light rail line in a corridor that could not support a single bus line you ask? For the tax breaks is the answer. Most of the corridor was an old switch yard that developers could buy cheap and the light rail line came with tax holidays on the adjoining land.

    The simple truth is, most transportation spending is dictated by new development rather than deteriorating infra-structure.

    I am deeply cynical about raising fuel taxes to pay for “infrastructure” because I know what most “infrastructure” politicians have in mind. Anyone in the mood for a billion dollar stadium? We won’t fix a bridge but we will buy a billionaire a new home for the Vikings.


    • Yes. You bring up another significant problem. Not only do we need to attend to the infrastructure, the graft and greed creates new issues. Your cynicism is warranted. I wish I had some solutions to that problem. We must rely on the good faith of people to get things done right. Too often, we are disappointed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing this info Jim. It is a scary prospect and it will only get worse I expect. Scarier if you drive a semi. Many of our bridges here were built in the 20s and 30s. Plus we use a lot of road salt in the winter, which hastens the corrosion.


  5. Disturbing the force you are! Keep it up. Your insightful readers are variously telling the emperor what clothes are missing. Development, self-dealing, corruption and taking care of your donors are birds of a feather. Yes indeed, follow the money! Yet, we elect our governments, so who is responsible?

    Oh, the thing everyone hates. Dare I say the dirty word? Taxes. To a larger degree we get what we pay for. Yet, we can’t have everything.

    Governments are slow to adapt. Gas taxes are declining as vehicles become more efficient (our Prius gets 51 mpg) and a newer generation foregoes auto ownership. Time to tweak the system?

    At the state and county level, priorities are easier to set and manage, or at least they should be. Our system of government assumes the will of the people will prevail – or maybe not.

    Bottom line: Like the weather and politics, every complains but nobody ever does anything about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One structurally deficient bridge is a quarter mile from my house and I use it at least once a week.

    Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. — Ronald Reagan

    The F-35 advanced fighter program has thus far cost half a trillion dollars and isn’t operational yet. If a bridge costs a million dollars, that would buy 500,000 bridges. The newest high-tech Zumwalt destroyer program is running at 3 billion dollars a ship for 3 ships, none commissioned so far. I’m just sayin’.

    Very informative post, Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Over the last few years I have seen four small bridges rebuilt and one big one on the motorway what has struck me is how long it takes for each job. Roads are closed for YEARS at a time. YEARS! I am going back to look at this map. A very important discussion.. c

    Liked by 1 person

    • Years indeed. It is inconvenient. But the job gets done and some people are employed to do the work. We could certainly use more $ and people to speed up the process.

      Looks like you are having a good time on your trip.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes – I am a little lost far out in the reaches of the antipodies. My husband is a contractor so we are one of the families who benefits when a bridge is rebuilt. It is ongoing and sadly there is not a lot of money around in these rural counties now. We have roads that are closed because of demolished irrepairable bridges. Sometimes I think of the rural infrastructure of america as a rubber band that got pulled too tight too fast. c

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This country is going to continue to have infrastructure problems if we don’t start addressing these issues.

    Although I am not confident that these issues will be addressed with long range maintenance included. I have seen short burst of money flowing in the direction of infrastructure but it’s not enough to solve the problem…of course I will continue to voice my concerns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your concerns. We should be taking care of these infrastructure issues on an on-going basis. It would be enormously expensive to replace what we have.

      It is like car and home maintenance. Try to save money by not doing it and putting it off. You will lose. Do the routine stuff and it will last a long time.


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