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Bad bridges

Published May 29. 2013 05:03PM

Last Thursday, two vehicles and a trailer were sent plunging into the river after the collapse of a four-lane bridge in Washington state, about 60 miles north of Seattle.

Fortunately, the three persons who were taken to hospitals survived. The bad news is that these types of accidents will be happening more frequently, given the number of roads and bridges in need of immediate attention in the U.S.

A Federal Highway Administration database listed the Washington bridge as "functionally obsolete," meaning its design is outdated but it was not classified as structurally deficient. On Memorial Day weekend, however, millions of travelers crossed 68,842 bridges that are considered structurally deficient.

Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across these deficient bridges and 102 them are located in our largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation's bridges are rated as structurally deficient. The average age of the nation's 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The average traffic on all bridges is 129,881,848 and the average daily traffic on deficient bridges is 22,773,880 (17.5 percent).

Famous bridges like the San Francisco's Golden Gate and The Brooklyn Bridge, now undergoing a massive rehabilitation project, aren't the problem. It's the less glamorous bridges, like the many familiar overpasses that take commuters over cross streets or other highways, that are the concern.

With its 25,000 state-owned bridges, Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of spans in the nation, but unfortunately, it leads in the number of structurally deficient bridges. Reportedly, 5,906 of its total of 22,271 (26.5 percent) bridges are deficient.

To eliminate the nation's bridge deficient backlog by 2028, the FHA estimates that we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually. Only $12.8 billion is being spent currently so the challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to come up with another $8 billion annually.

While Congress has repeatedly declared bridge safety a national priority, there is nothing that assures our aging bridges are actually getting fixed. According to David Goldberg, the communications director for Transportation for America, bridge users will continue experiencing large potholes, weight restrictions and lane closings until the major bridge work becomes a priority across the nation. He said today, most transportation agencies have delayed needed repairs and maintenance while focusing their energy on new construction.

"The new stuff, the ribbon-cutting, always competes with maintenance," says Goldberg.

Back in 2008, then-president elect Barack Obama promised that his stimulus plan would include a two-year nationwide effort to spur job creation and jump start the economy.

"We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges," he vowed. "Because of this investment, nearly 400,000 men and women will go to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our faulty dams and levees, bringing critical broadband connections to businesses and homes in nearly every community in America, upgrading mass transit, building high-speed rail lines that will improve travel and commerce throughout our nation."

So what became of all that stimulus money that Obama promised to fix our infrastructure? Much of it was mismanaged, a symptom of bloated government, but others argue that much of it was used to play some political football during the election season. Some goes to Democrat unions and the union dues end up being spent on Democrat campaigns to buy ads for its candidates. Hence, there is much money "greasing the hand" of loyal supporters.

Meanwhile, as the bureaucrats play their political games in Washington, the nation's bridges continue to crumble, making them a ticking time bomb for thousands of commuters who rely on them daily.

By Jim Zbick

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