The Dangerous State of American Bridges
Despite dozens of new transportation and infrastructure projects underway in the United States and President Trump's call for new roads and public works, tens of thousands of bridges across the country are currently falling apart.
From Hawaii to Maine and every state in between, Americans today are driving across bridges that are classified as “structurally deficient” (i.e., one or more of the key bridge components – such as the deck, superstructure, or substructure – is considered to be in “poor” condition or worse).
With data from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), we examined where the busiest structurally deficient bridges are located, how many people cross them each year, when they were originally built, and which states are attempting to make repairs. Is your state home to one of these bridges? Read on to find out.
The Sad State of Bridges
States with not only the most structurally deficient bridges but also the most crossings each day were a top concern. Structurally deficient bridges are suffering from deterioration to at least one major component.
Despite having the fewest number of deficient bridges in the nation, D.C. topped the list with more than 28,000 daily crossings over its structurally deficient bridges. Despite being right outside the buildings where decisions are made about infrastructure projects, the Arlington Memorial Bridge running between the District and Virginia has been a long-standing danger to those driving across it. While emergency repairs were made to the bridge in 2015, it is estimated that roughly $250 million will be needed to fix the overpass entirely.
Massachusetts (nearly 23,000 daily crossings) and Rhode Island (nearly 19,000 daily crossings) also have some of the busiest structurally deficient bridges in the country. Some bridges in Massachusetts – like the East Street Bridge – have become famous for the work they need; however, the East Street Bridge won’t be repaired until November of 2017, despite the numerous crashes that happen there every year.
Hawaii (more than 17,000), New Jersey (nearly 17,000), and California (more than 15,000) also had the most daily crossings over structurally deficient bridges.
The Most Dangerous Bridges in America’s Counties
States have differing land masses and multiple bridge locations; still, we used ARTBA data to examine which counties have the most traveled structurally deficient bridges. Many Americans have a fear of crossing bridges, but which bridges should we actually worry about?
If you’re driving in Florida, you may want to avoid the Fuller Warren Bridge in Jacksonville. The bridge has an average 150,000 crossings each day, but is structurally deficient. It was built in 1959.
Aged Bridges Across the Country
The oldest bridges still standing in the United States were built in the 17th and 18th centuries; however, most American bridges average 43 years old. Contemporary overpasses are designed to last for 50 years before needing a major overhaul, but in the United States, more than 100,000 bridges across the country are at least 65 years old.
When we looked at the busiest and most structurally deficient bridges in each state, the oldest bridge was built in 1928. It’s currently still in use in Vermont. In Minnesota and North Dakota, the most structurally deficient and busiest bridges were each constructed in 1938. The most recently built bridge noted as being the most structurally deficient, but well-traveled, is in Texas and was built in 1991.
Troubled Bridges Over Water
Use the interactive below to discover which bridge is the busiest and most structurally deficient. Click on a state to see more information.
In Iowa, the busiest and most structurally deficient bridge over water is in Scott County. The Centennial Bridge, built in 1940, sees nearly 32,000 crossings each day. In Mississippi, the Vicksburg Bridge was constructed in 1973 and currently supports the passage of 27,600 cars daily.
Bridges identified as functionally obsolete may not necessarily be structurally deficient or unsafe for travel. The phrase may refer to a bridge having too few lanes or not enough space for emergency shoulders. However, regardless of the actual safety of the structure, a functionally obsolete bridge is considered no longer sufficient to perform its original task, like appropriately managing traffic or providing space for oversized vehicles.
D.C. has the highest occurrence of functionally obsolete bridges, while Massachusetts has the second highest rate of occurrence. More than 37 percent of Hawaii’s bridges are currently classified as functionally obsolete, while over 31 percent in Rhode Island carry the same rating.
While functionally obsolete bridges may not present immediate safety concerns, increased congestion or insufficient emergency lanes can create hazardous driving conditions that could lead to accidents.
In With the New Bridges and Out With the Old
While many bridges in the nation have outlived their standard 50-year lifetime and remain either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, some states are focused on building new bridges as opposed to repairing existing roadways.
In Utah, close to 14 percent of all bridges have been constructed in the last 10 years. In Nevada, where the oldest and most structurally deficient bridge was built in 1984, more than 12 percent of bridges have been constructed since 2006.
Despite having the third-most functionally obsolete and fourth-most structurally deficient busy bridges, Hawaii has built the least bridges in the past 10 years – fewer than 2 percent.
Repairing or replacing existing roadways is hard work. It can take years to pass legislation successfully, and then millions of dollars and more years of construction to execute those plans.
In the United States, New Hampshire currently has the most bridge replacement proposals working their way through the litigation process – it has proposed nearly 98 percent of its bridges be replaced – carrying an estimated $8 billion price tag.
Many states are in the process of replacing old bridges and skyways. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it will cost an estimated $1.6 trillion to reduce the country’s infrastructure maladies expected by 2020. Unfortunately, not every structurally deficient bridge is a top priority for the state responsible for maintaining it.
While you may or may not travel across one of these aging bridges, motor vehicle accidents can happen when you least expect them, and it’s important to be protected. Auto Insurance Center is your fast, fair, and friendly insurance company and insures everything from cars and trucks to commercial vehicles, such as tow trucks and utility trailers. Talk to one of our customer service agents today to receive a free quote for a local provider in your area. Regardless of where you’re driving, make sure you have the best protection for whatever life throws your way. Visit AIC online for more information.
We used ARTBA’s state bridge profiles from FHWA’s 2016 National Bridge Inventory Data, which was released in February 2017. Specific conditions on bridges may have changed as a result of recent work.
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