The Big Picture
According to an analysis of federal data from Transportation for America, 67,000 of the nation’s 605,000 bridges are rated “structurally deficient;” that translates to 11%, or one in nine bridges across America. Bridges that are deemed structurally deficient are in need of substantial repair, or outright replacement; they can become dangerous, or be closed without near-term repair.
The report ranks states according to the overall condition of their bridges; those with a higher percentage of deficient bridges rank higher on the scale. Twenty-one states have a greater percentage of deficient bridges than the national average.
Age is a factor in the analysis; as one might expect, older bridges are generally more deficient than newer ones. Most of the nation’s bridges are designed to last fifty years before requiring major overhaul or replacement.
Complicating matters, the average American bridge is rapidly approaching its expiration date, and many are disasters-in-the-making. On average, American bridges are forty-three years old, with roughly half of all the structurally deficient bridges being at least 65 years old.
Making the situation grimmer still, budgetary constraints have made funding increasingly difficult to procure. Gas tax revenues have been steadily declining as consumers cut back at the pump. But at the same time, Congress eliminated a dedicated repair fund altogether in 2012, further exacerbating a calamitous situation; the new law also reduced access to repair funds for ninety percent of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges – most of which belong to cash-strapped local governments.
Of the twenty-one states having a greater percentage of deficient bridges than the national average, six reside in the Midwest. Put another way, fully half of the Midwestern states have a greater percentage of deficient bridges that the national average.
While five of the worst ten states are in the Midwest, no Midwestern states made the list of the ten best states. The national average was 11%, and the Midwest average was only slightly higher, at 13.3%.
In terms of age, the average Midwestern bridge is statistically similar to the national average, but our deficient bridges are significantly older than the norm – 4.1 years older on average.
As stated above, nearly 67,000 of the nation’s 605,000 bridges are rated “structurally deficient.” Almost 35% of the U.S.’s bridges reside in the Midwest, but the region contains 40% of its deficient bridges. That figure is misleading, because the six Plains states comprise a sizably greater portion of the regions faulty bridges.
The Plains States
Looking within the region, the Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska, South & North Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa averaged nearly 17% – almost 6% greater than the national average. The Great Lakes states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, on the other hand, averaged almost 10%, statistically similar to the national average.
Amazingly, the Midwestern Plains states contain nearly a quarter of the nation’s deficient bridges, yet they only comprise 16.4% of the bridges altogether. The Great Lakes states in comparison contain only 16% of the U.S.’s deficient bridges, while comprising 18.3% of the total number.
Taken individually, many of the Plains states appear to be rapidly approaching a breaking point. For example, Kansas has the oldest bridges in the region, with the average bridge being only two years from their intended expiration date; those ruled structurally deficient in Kansas are, on average, an incredible seventy-five years old!
Overall, however, Iowa and South Dakota are the region’s worst offenders; Nebraska and North Dakota are close behind. Iowa and South Dakota nearly double the national average, at 21.2% and 20.6%, respectively.
Nationally, Iowa ranked as the third-worst state in the study; South Dakota ranked fifth, Nebraska sixth, and North Dakota seventh. Nebraska and North Dakota each averaged 18% and 16.8%; that is over 150% of the national average for either state.
The Bottom Line
While the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling all around, the six Midwestern Plains states collectively represent an enormous piece of the problem – 24%, to be precise.
As bridge collapses become regular occurrences across the nation, it would be wise to consider new sources of funding for bridge and overpass repairs – perhaps by creating a new dedicated repair fund and restoring funding for ninety percent of the nation’s structurally deficient bridges.
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