From 24/7 Wall St.: From rural covered passes to modern engineering marvels, bridges overcome natural obstacles and expedite transportation. Yet many of the bridges that people drive on every day are in rough shape. According to one transportation group, more than one in 10 of the country’s bridges are in need of serious repair or replacement.
In many states, the situation is more dire. Nearly a quarter of the bridges in Pennsylvania are structurally deficient, the highest of all states, according to Transportation for America, a grassroots organization advocating updated transportation infrastructure. Based on the group’s report, “The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Nation’s Bridges 2013,” these are the 10 states with the most dangerous bridges.
The states on this list tend to have older bridges — their bridges’ average age is older than the average age of all bridges nationwide of 43 years. In Pennsylvania, the states with the most dangerous bridges, the average age is 54, higher than all but four others.
David Goldberg, communications director with Transportation for America and a co-author of the report explained that a large number of U.S. bridges were part of the transportation projects initiated shortly after World War II. “A lot of these bridges were born with the baby boomers.” He said. “Like the baby boomers, they are nearing retirement age.” Transportation for America projects that in 10 years, one in four bridges in the country will be at least 65 years old.
For most states, gasoline taxes are one of the most important sources of funding for bridge construction and repair. Not surprisingly, many of the states with structurally deficient bridges have lower gas tax rates than other states. For instance, Oklahoma charges just 17 cents a gallon in taxes, lower than all but four other states. Meanwhile, Missouri charges 17.3 cents, lower than all but five other states. Both states are on this list.
But higher gas tax rates may not be sufficient to improve bridges in some states, Goldberg noted. Considering the number of bridges that need to be maintained, sparsely populated states simply do not have enough people filling up their tanks to bring in the revenue needed to rebuild or replace structurally unsound bridges. Such is the case in North Dakota and South Dakota, the fourth and fifth most sparsely populated states in the country, respectively.
Winter weather can also wreak havoc on infrastructure. Bridges tend to receive the most damage during the wintertime, Goldberg said, and states in the Northeast tend to have harsher winters. Of the 10 states on this list, four — Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine — are located in the Northeast. North and South Dakota also have very harsh winters.
Some of these states are heading in the right direction in terms of repairing bridges. The number of bridges in Missouri deemed structurally inadequate declined by more than 15% since 2011. The state has worked over the past several years to repair bridges through the $685 million Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program. In addition, both Pennsylvania and Maine have reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges by more than 8%.
Based on information from Transportation for America’s report, “The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Nation’s Bridges 2013,” 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states with the highest percentage of bridges that are deemed structurally deficient. Transportation for America labels bridges structurally deficient if they “require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.” Most of the information is as of 2013, with the exception of data from Tennessee and New Hampshire, which is from 2012. Transportation for America also provided the data regarding the average age of bridges, traffic over bridges and bridge information by county. Data on current excise taxes by state came from the Tax Foundation, while population density information as of 2011 was from the U.S. Census Bureau.
These are the states with the most dangerous bridges, according to 24/7 Wall St.: