Congress, Biden Urged to Release Funds for Bridge Repair

Pittsburgh Bridge Collapse
Experts point to unsafe bridges. The Forbes Avenue Bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park in Pittsburgh collapsed Jan. 28. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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Transportation experts are urging Congress and the Biden administration to release federal infrastructure funds to improve unsafe bridges across the nation.

Leaders from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the American Society of Civil Engineers have raised the issue of the need for federal funds to improve deteriorating bridges critical to the nation’s infrastructure and public safety.

Current federal funding to help states pay for bridges and other transportation projects does not include full transportation appropriations from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which became law in November. The current continuing resolution, which holds spending for most federal surface transportation programs flat at fiscal year 2021 levels, ends Feb. 18.

Infrastructure is a system of systems. It’s the weak link that brings everything down.

Maria Lehman, ASCE

According to the IIJA, the U.S. Department of Transportation will provide $27.5 billion to states for bridge repairs over the next five years.

The longer it takes to approve spending, the longer it will take for projects to begin, said Dave Bauer, ARTBA president and CEO. “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.”

Maria Lehman, ASCE president-elect, said her organization is very thankful for the “major plus-up” investment by the federal government that hasn’t been done in decades.

“It’s a great start but it’s not the silver bullet” because funding should be released to start to make important bridge repairs as soon as possible, she said. “Infrastructure is a system of systems. It’s the weak link that brings everything down.”

2022 ARTBA Bridge Report by Transport Topics

A newly released 2022 Bridge Report by ARTBA identified 78,800 bridges in the United States that should be replaced based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory database. The report cited states with the most bridges in poor condition are:

  • Iowa (4,504)
  • Pennsylvania (3,198)
  • Illinois (2,405)
  • Oklahoma (2,296)
  • Missouri (2,218)
  • New York (1,672)
  • Louisiana (1,631)
  • California (1,493)
  • West Virginia (1,490)
  • Ohio (1,334)

Once a bridge is listed in poor condition, it must be replaced, while those classified in fair condition can be repaired, Lehman said. According to the ARTBA report, 36% of all U.S. bridges (224,000) need major repairs or should be replaced.

“Our infrastructure is always there doing its job. It’s not until something goes drastically wrong that people pay attention,” Lehman noted. “Civil engineering failure is front-and-center because it’s important to people.”

She advised truck drivers to heed load postings on bridges as a public safety issue. “Maybe it won’t collapse [if driven over with a heavier weight], but you are straining it.”

Lehman suggested that state transportation departments and local municipalities maximize their funding by improving bridges in regional clusters near each other to take advantage of economies of scale, including lower administrative costs.

“It’s really important that we start to think of systemic solutions instead of one-off solutions,” she declared.

Earlier this month, leaders from seven organizations representing local municipalities and states also wrote a letter to congressional lawmakers urging them to swiftly pass appropriations for FY22 to “instill confidence in our residents as we navigate through the ongoing pandemic.”

The letter, dated Feb. 8, was signed by leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, International City/County Management Association, Council of State Governments, National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The IIJA 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,” the letter stated.

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