The annual report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) disclosed that 55,710 bridges nationwide required much needed repairs or replacement. According to the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, rust is the reason for up to 15% of bridges being in poor condition. The need for repair, which could include replacing dilapidated ones, is a bold move for any administration. This one, most especially, comes at a steep cost.
According to the Washington Post, the Federal Highway Administration recently estimated that $20.5 billion is needed to fund this endeavor over the next 16 years.
Deteriorating bridges can cause not only inconvenience but also lead to additional costs. When a bridge is in need of repair, the allowed load is typically lowered because of fears that it may collapse with heavy loads. Trucks are no longer allowed to pass through, and they have to find a longer route to get across the river. This means longer travel time for trucks and the additional cost of fuel and other expenses that can lead to higher cost for consumers. The ARTBA cited Iowa as the state with the most number of bridges needing repair. Pennsylvania ranks second on the list, with almost 20% of their bridges requiring repair. Maintenance can be as simple as a fresh coat of paint to help stave off rust, but without adequate maintenance, blocks of material can fall off and it may lead to more problems.
The ARTBA report also stated that the number of bridges needing repair dropped by 2,785 in 2016. This pace is still too slow to provide a solution to the issue at hand. The White House has vowed to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure including roads and bridges. The pertinent point about the bold promise is for private investments to come in and help building the infrastructure by offering up to 82% tax credit to infrastructure investments. One proposal is to have private contractors build and collect toll for them to recover their investment. However, it is not possible to build a tollway for all bridges. For example, Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, and none of these are tolls.
Alison Black, ARTBA’s chief economist, said that private investments will not be able to solve the problem. It will require government funds to address the repair and replacement of bridges. The federal government and private sector will need to work together to come up with bold but practical and implementable solutions to resolve this issue.