Is Highway Funding a Bridge Too Far?
By Tim Triplett
If you are like me, last month’s report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association on the woeful state of the nation’s bridges will add a small measure of anxiety to your travels. Try not to think about it next time you get behind the wheel.
ARTBA analyzed the data in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent 2016 National Bridge Inventory. What they found is shocking, though not surprising, considering the perpetual debate in Washington over infrastructure funding.
All total, the U.S. has about 55,710 “structurally compromised” bridges, crossed by cars, trucks and school buses 185 million times each day. That does not mean they are imminently unsafe, but it does mean they are all in serious need of attention. About 28 percent of all bridges are more than 50 years old and have never had any major reconstruction. “America’s highway network is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization,” says ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Premo Black, who conducted the study.
Looking at the data, which is available at www.artbabridgereport.org, it’s no surprise that the Top 10 most widely travelled structurally deficient bridges are in California, most in the LA area. The Top 10 states with the most structurally deficient bridges are: Iowa, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio and New York. The Top 10 with the fewest bridges in need of repair are: the District of Columbia, Nevada, Delaware, Hawaii, Utah, Alaska, Vermont, Rhode Island, Arizona and Florida. On average, 9 percent of the nation’s bridges need some sort of remediation to make them completely safe for long-term use.
In 2015, Congress approved a five-year, $305 billion transportation infrastructure bill—a positive step, but well short of the $400 billion over six years requested by the Obama administration. Federal funds for transportation come mostly from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1993. The American Iron & Steel Institute, as part of a broad coalition of business leaders, has appealed to the Trump administration to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and to take steps to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. As they pointed out, the efficient movement of people and goods is key to America’s competitiveness.
Among President Trump’s many campaign promises was a massive increase in federal spending on U.S. roads, bridges and airports, which is good news for the steel industry. But so far, his ambitious infrastructure plan has been slow to take shape, as has a plan to pay for it. Federal spending on roads and bridges is likely to increase in the next few years, but how much is unclear. Even a supportive Republican Congress will balk at a price tag that’s too “massive.”