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October 7, 2019 2:30 PM, EDT

US House Lawmakers’ Bill Would Assist With Local Bridge Repairs

Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania has 3,770 bridges (16.5%) that are "structurally deficient." (Pennsylvania DOT)

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Legislation that would seek to facilitate funding for municipalities to fix old bridges was recently introduced by two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Fixing America’s Bridges Act would re-establish the federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program to assist with repairs and replacements of structurally deficient bridges.

Funding would be proposed for locally owned bridges, according to background provided by the office of Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Finkenauer and Rep .Clay Higgins (R-La.), a member of the Homeland Security panel, are the measure’s chief sponsors.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa)

Finkenauer

“Having visited many of our local structurally deficient bridges, I know firsthand how big of an impact we can make by securing much-needed help for our communities,” Finkenauer said in a statement Oct. 1. “Our local engineers and communities are sending us a clear message [that] they need help, and we can do that while making our infrastructure safer and supporting good-paying American jobs.”

“Investing in safe and reliable infrastructure promotes economic growth and benefits our communities. This certainly includes America’s bridges,” added Higgins.

Groups that expressed support for the bill include the National Association of County Engineers, North America’s Building Trades Unions, the Soy Transportation Coalition and the National Association of Counties.

“To address the bridge maintenance backlog, we need reliable federal and state partners. Increasing investments in locally owned bridges and reducing the local match requirement will give counties additional resources to strengthen our nation’s transportation network,” National Association of Counties executive director Matthew Chase said in a statement.

Rep .Clay Higgins (R-La.)

Higgins

This House bill is among recent efforts on Capitol Hill meant to facilitate funding for infrastructure projects around the country. Earlier this year, senators introduced a bill that would help with repairs or lead to the replacement of deficient bridges.

The Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges Act would approve $2.75 billion annually through fiscal 2025 for agencies that handle the maintenance of bridges. Sponsors include Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Maine independent Angus King.

“As bridges in New Hampshire and across the country continue to crumble from disrepair, the need for bipartisan cooperation has never been more urgent,” Shaheen said in June. “Continued neglect poses significant public safety risks and jeopardizes our economy.”

Last month, in an examination of the country’s bridges, the Senate Republican Policy Committee determined the condition of bridges “have improved in recent years.”

“Many states have made concerted efforts to address their bridge infrastructure through state bridge bundling programs,” the committee explained, noting that federal funding stems primarily from authorizations in surface transportation laws. Grants and credit programs also are designed to assist states.

Senate Republicans also highlighted a recent committee-passed Senate highway reauthorization bill that would establish a grant program aimed at fixing bridges.

In its annual assessment of bridges nationwide, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association found that 47,052 out of the nation’s 616,087 bridges are structurally deficient, with 38% of the total number of bridges in need of repair, replacement or significant rehabilitation.

Three notable states were Iowa, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. Iowa has 4,675 structurally deficient bridges, or nearly 20% of the state’s bridges. Pennsylvania has 3,770 such bridges, or 16.5%. And Oklahoma has 2,540 deficient bridges, or 10.9%. The group relied on federal data to analyze bridge conditions for every state.

In April, at the time the report was released, Alison Premo Black, ARTBA’s chief economist, said: “State and local governments just haven’t been given the necessary resources to get the job done.”

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