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Bridge Repairs at Risk if Highway Trust Fund Runs into Red

April 25, 2014

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Another warning about infrastructure funding: 63,000 of the nation’s bridges are structurally compromised and at risk of not being repaired unless the Highway Trust Fund is preserved, says the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

“Letting the Highway Trust Fund investment dry up would have a devastating impact on bridge repairs,” said ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Black. “It would set back bridge improvements in every state for the next decade.”

The Fund is trending rapidly downward and unless Congress finds more revenue soon it will go into the red by late August or early September.

If that happens, Black said, there will be no Fund support for any new road, bridge, or public transportation projects in any state during fiscal year 2015, which starts October 1.

She was commenting on a report prepared by the association using the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database recently released by the Department of Transportation.

The report highlights bridges that are found “structurally deficient” in a rating system used by state departments of transportation.

The system rates each bridge on a scale of one to nine. Nine is excellent. Anything rated four or below is termed “structurally deficient.” That does not mean the bridge is about to fall, but it does need repairs.

The association is suggesting that these bridges be posted as deficient as a way to alert the public to the need for action.

Among the deficient bridges are 250 heavily used spans on urban Interstates, practically all of which are at least 39 years old, the association said.

Pennsylvania has the most deficient bridges: 5,218. Close behind is Iowa with 5,043, followed by Oklahoma with 4,227, Missouri with 3,357 and California with 2,769.

Nevada, Delaware, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii have the fewest deficient bridges.

The ARTBA report echoes other warnings from state transportation departments about the effect of letting the Fund go into the red.

“The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials,” Black said in a statement. 

“The state transportation departments can’t just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away.  It takes committed investment by our legislators.  Members of Congress need to come to grips with that.  Some of our most heavily travelled bridges were built in the 1930s.  Most are more than 40 years old.”

Congress is considering a variety of approaches to the crisis, from raising the fuel tax to one-time infusions derived from corporate tax reforms. The Obama administration is preparing a bill that will call for tax reforms to generate enough to support a four-year program.  

Given the political difficulty of these options, they are not likely to be resolved before the November mid-term elections. That leaves the likelihood of a transfer of money from the treasury to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until a longer-term solution can be found.

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