A recent analysis of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) National Bridge Inventory conducted by the Associated Press (AP) Investigative Team, has revealed that more than 85,000 of the nation’s bridges are in dire need of repair and replacement. The review is extensive, finding that out of the 607,380 bridges listed, 65,605 are classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 are listed as “fracture critical.” Of these bridges, 7,795 fall into both categories, indicating a dangerous level of disrepair and a risk of collapse.
Among the bridges that are deemed both structurally deficient and fracture critical are the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge into Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Bridge
in New York, the Route 495 Lincoln Tunnel Helix in New Jersey and the Main Avenue Bridge in Cleveland. The deficient/critical bridges carry more than 29 million vehicles per day. Most of those bridges are over 60 years old and have exceeded their original
projected life expectancy. The northeastern states face many more challenges than the rest of the country because of an older infrastructure and more severe weather conditions.
Many of America’s aging bridges carry more vehicles than they were originally expected to handle and many are heavier than the earlier models, causing more frequent damages. Bridges are very expensive to fix and in some cases, almost prohibitively costly to replace. Some estimates range in the billions of dollars for replacing a single bridge and finding the money to finance repair or replacement is a critical issue. State and national officials inspect bridges often and the engineers say that the structures are safe and even bridges that are deficient/critical should not collapse if monitored and maintained properly. But it’s still an issue that causes a great deal of concern, especially for professional drivers who use these structures on a daily basis. But regulators say that if a bridge is open to traffic, it is safe. Weight restrictions are being placed on some bridges that have been identified with safety issues, and those bridges are often more frequently inspected than others.
If you have specific concerns about the bridges you frequently use, there is an excellent interactive map on the Transportation for America website. You can search for bridges in all 50 states and the site provides a report on every structure, including condition rating, number of cars crossing per day, age and frequency of inspections.