The Associated Press finds that 7,795 of the country’s bridges have been designated both “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical,” a combination that puts them at an increased risk of collapse.
This doesn’t mean that they are in danger of imminent collapse but the two classifications are a sign of risk. A “structurally deficient” bridge is one that needs rehabilitation or repair because at least one major component is in a poor condition. A “fracture critical” bridge is one that doesn’t have redundant protections and is at risk of collapse if one vital piece fails. Of the more than 607,000 that are subject to inspection standards, 65,605 are the former and 20,808 are the latter.
The nearly 8,000 risky bridges are operational in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico and carry more than 29 million drivers a day. Many are on important routes, with some on interstate highways. Some prominent bridge collapses happened on fracture critical bridges, such as the bridge collapse in Washington state in May.
Overall, one in nine bridges in the country are rated structurally deficient, and the average age is 42 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated the nation’s bridges a C+, and to upgrade all of the deficient ones the U.S. would have to spend $20.5 billion each year. Yet it is only spending $12.8 billion on bridges currently.
Bridges are just one aspect of crumbling American infrastructure. Overall the United States gets a D+, or poor, rating on its roads, railways, transit, water systems, and bridges. To fully upgrade its infrastructure, the country would have to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020, but it’s only expected to spend a third of that sum in that timeframe.
In fact, investment has been decreasing. Spending on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP is at the lowest level in two decades. Stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made improvements but it has been mostly used up and one of the few remaining grants is getting far more requests than it can dole out. President Obama has proposed more stimulus spending on infrastructure but Republicans have repeatedly blocked those efforts.
Spending money to fix infrastructure wouldn’t just keep roads and bridges safe, however. It would also put people back to work at a time of high unemployment and give the economy a much needed boost.