January 29, 2018 3:45 PM, EST

Capitol Agenda for the Week of Jan. 29: State of the Bridges

Eastbound on Arlington Memorial Bridge Eastbound on Arlington Memorial Bridge (roadwaywiz via YouTube)

One-fifth of Iowa’s bridges are structurally deficient, as are more than 4,100 bridges in Pennsylvania. Twenty-three percent of bridges in Rhode Island are in that category. And, Washington, D.C., has eight of them.

Want to see a structurally deficient bridge for yourself?

The next time you visit the nation’s capital, walk to Arlington National Cemetery from the Lincoln Memorial. The Arlington Memorial Bridge between the landmarks is a structurally deficient structure. It looks it, too.

Every day, cars, buses, and trucks take 175 million trips on 54,259 “compromised” structures, such as the Arlington Memorial Bridge. This is not to say these bridges are unsafe; they require certain upgrades. And some more than others.

ARTBA State Ranking 2018 by Transport Topics on Scribd

Alison Premo Black, American Road & Transportation Builders Association chief economist, crunched the numbers using the National Bridge Inventory, ahead of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union. The Builder-in-Chief will outline a strategy for repairing these bridges, so we can finally learn how lawmakers plan to make sure we spend less time stuck in traffic on shabby bridges that need to be fixed.

“An infrastructure package aimed at modernizing the Interstate [Highway] System would have both short- and long-term positive effects on the U.S. economy,” Black argued Jan. 29, noting bottlenecks cost more than $60 billion annually to the trucking industry in productivity and fuel. That impact, she said, “increases the cost of everything we make, buy or export.”

Whether Trump announces a trillion-dollar or a $1.7 trillion infrastructure proposal during his annual address to Congress is important, but not as important as what Congress does with his proposal. Like the snows of yesteryear, prioritizing funding for modernizing bridges, roads and everything in between used to garner bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill.

Nowadays, leaders from both parties would be lucky to see eye to eye on the naming of a post office. The friction du jour between Democrats and Republicans stems from a splintered immigration debate that caused the recent mini-shutdown.

The president and several Republicans are recently arguing for bringing back earmarks in funding legislation to ease gridlock on Capitol Hill. Others think doing away with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate would do the trick.

Meanwhile, there are 1,435 structurally deficient bridges in Indiana. New Mexico has 251 such bridges, and there are 165 in Alaska, where — had it not been for the congressional ban on earmarks — we could’ve had a bridge to nowhere. “Whereof,” wrote Shakespeare, “what’s past is prologue.”

THE WEEK AHEAD (all times EST):

Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Washington Auto Show at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Jan. 29, 3 p.m.: The Washington Post previews the “State of the Union.”

Jan. 30, 9:30 a.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board meets to determine the probable cause of the American Airlines Flight 383 uncontained engine failure at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in 2016.

Jan. 30, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hears from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Jan. 30, 10 a.m.: The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology scheduled a hearing titled, “Closing the Digital Divide: Broadband Infrastructure Solutions.”

Jan. 30, 9 p.m.: President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union.


NAFTA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing for the possibility the United States may pull out of NAFTA. For Canadian companies, the trade skirmish already has begun.

‘SPAGHETTI JUNCTION’: For the third successive year, Atlanta’s five-level stack interchange known as “Spaghetti Junction,” where Interstates 285 and 85 North intersect, is the most congested freight bottleneck in the nation, according to new research conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute. 

TESLA: A second federal safety agency has opened an investigation of an accident in which a Tesla car on “Autopilot” rammed into a parked fire truck. 


Overheard at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting last week, courtesy of Transport Topics’ Eleanor Lamb:

“My concern is we’ll ultimately, as cities, lose efforts and programs that have been valuable to helping us build our infrastructure.” — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

“I believe when D.J. Gribbin talks about repurposing funds, he means the elimination of TIGER grants. He’s just not going to tell a room full of mayors he’s going to eliminate TIGER grants.” — J. Christian Bollwage, mayor of Elizabeth, N.J.

“We are comfortable changing out methods to get to these goals. We are very open to ideas about how to accomplish those goals. We don’t believe we have all the answers.” — White House infrastructure policy adviser DJ Gribbin

“Two hundred billion, for a trillion-dollar goal, is fairy dust. The emperor wears no clothes when it comes to his plan.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

“If I had a customer that was that big, I’d kind of try to take care of them a little bit. I think it is very much in our interest to make sure, before the end of March, we come to a resolution which gives the communities that you represent the confidence that they can invest and grow the economy and create jobs.” — David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, about NAFTA negotiations

“My dad used to say, ‘Boy, you’ve got more degrees than the 4th of July, but you still ain’t hot.’ ” — Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)


In Barron’s, Randall W. Forsyth details myriad “potholes” that potentially could break down Trump’s infrastructure vision. “Even after the president unveils the details of his infrastructure program, the road to its enactment may be as long and as bumpy as the commute on one of the nation’s pothole-pocked highways,” he wrote.


Suddenly a car in the right lane to my front suddenly does a U-turn in the entire street right in front of us, to which we commented, if we were an automated vehicle and he was an automated vehicle, that wouldn’t have happened. So there was a demonstration for me earlier this morning.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, recounting a near-crash experience on his way to a field hearing in Washington on Jan. 24.


SNL on Amazon’s search for its second headquarters.


Check one two: Atlantic Media’s Bill Lucia captures the DJ’s essence before the mayors.

Thank you for reading Capitol Agenda. We publish Tuesdays when Congress is in session. E-mail with tips. Follow @eugenemulero and @transporttopics on Twitter.