In our nation’s horse-race style presidential elections, campaigns typically start more than a year and a half before Election Day. By late May, we can expect almost all of the presidential candidates to have officially declared – just in time to watch the Highway Trust Fund run out.
With four major candidates officially campaigning already, the expected fate of our infrastructure is shaky but ripe for national debate. With the last years of President Obama’s term and a Republican controlled House and Senate, now is the time to pass a long-term and impactful infrastructure solution. This discussion can not wait until November of 2016.
And given the alarming state of our nation’s bridges, it’s about time.
One in nine of our nation’s bridges is now structurally deficient. We know this because the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory houses data on each of these bridges, down to the exact GPS coordinates.
The data shows that structurally deficient bridges are a problem for everyone.
430 Congressional districts have at least one structurally deficient bridge.
And that just scratches the surface, the distribution of deficient bridges by district is frightening.
9 members of the House have more than 1000 deficient bridges in their district. But they’re not the only ones with an unmanageable problem — 50 members have more than 300 structurally deficient bridges.
These 50 members, representing only 11% of our congressional districts, account for over half of our nation’s deficient bridges. This is an astonishing statistic. 45 of the districts with more than 300 structurally deficient bridges are represented by Republicans, many of whom represent large areas geographically.
Some perspective on that:
Last year’s midterms literally put Republicans on the map. Republican districts represent 78% of all bridges in the United States, and 81% of deficient bridges.
Similarly, 22% of bridges fall in Democratic districts, which contain 19% of our deficient bridges.
The bottom line: this problem isn’t about Republican vs. Democrat. Virtually everywhere, throughout every Congressional district, our bridges are in real trouble.
How Did We Get Here?
At the end of 1992, there were 572,196 bridges in our country. Of those, 118,698, or less than 21%, were considered structurally deficient. Twenty years later, we had built an additional 32,799 new bridges, but managed to lower the number of deficient bridges to just 66,405 (less than 11% of all the bridges).
From examining our past efforts, we know that if we addressed our bridge deficiency at the same rate that we did in the early 1990’s (about 17,000 repairs every 4 years) — it would take 16 years to fix all of our structurally deficient bridges.
However, at our current rate of 5,000 repairs every 4 years, it will take 64 years.
From a micro-standpoint, our analysis reveals that the 1990’s rate of repair averages to 40 bridges in each Congressional district every 4 years. 173 districts have 40 deficient bridges or fewer. 252 districts have 80 deficient bridges or fewer.
By returning to early ‘90’s infrastructure investment levels, in 8 years we could fix all of the structurally deficient bridges in over half of our Congressional districts, which is a far better proposition than if the government continues lagging behind in repairing deficient bridges.
Fixing our nation’s infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. Americans drive over bridges every day going to work, taking their kids to school and visiting loved ones. We owe it to them to ensure every ride is safe.