The State of Your Bridges
Our exclusive survey of bridge conditions in the United States
By Tina Grady Barbaccia
It’s a case of good news/bad news.
Better Roads’ 2010 Annual Bridge Inventory reveals that fewer of the country’s bridges are considered structurally deficient (SD) or functionally obsolete (FO) than any time in the last five years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of bridges in those classifications is still worryingly high.
The nation has 600,513 total bridges, but 23.3 percent — or 139,620 of them — are considered structurally deficient (SD) or functionally obsolete (FO). Of America’s 291,034 total interstate and state bridges, 61,149 – or 21 percent – are SD/FO. There are 309,479 total city/county/township bridges in the United States, and 78,471 — or 25.4 percent — are SD/FO.
But there are 2,278 fewer bridges than last year rated as SD or FO. Last year, out of the 597,787 total bridges surveyed, 141,898 of them — or 23.7 percent — were SD/FO. Compared to last year, there are also fewer SD/FO interstate and state bridges. In 2009, 62,504 — or 21.6 percent of the total 288,920 interstate and state bridges — were SD/FO and 79,394 — 25.7 percent — of the 308,867 city/county/township bridges were found to be SD/FO last year. [Editor’s Note: The 2009 numbers use 2008 data from Massachusetts and 2007 data from Rhode Island because updated numbers were not supplied for the 2009 Bridge Inventory.]
These are some of the findings from the Better Bridges 2010 Annual Bridge Inventory, an original research project conducted annually by Better Roads.
Where the most troubled bridges are
Although our nation’s capital has only 199 bridges, Washington, D.C., has the worst percentage of SD/FO bridges in the nation by overall percentage. Of the District’s 199 bridges, 123 — or 62 percent — are SD or FO, 7 percent more than in 2009.
The District of Columbia’s DOT (DDOT), however, says it expects to lower the rate of deficient bridges in the coming year through rehabilitation and reconstruction projects. But availability of funding remains the greatest challenge in reaching this goal, says Don Cooney, infrastructure project management administrator for the DDOT, in his survey response to Better Roads.
Rhode Island is the second worse, with 417 — 53 percent — of 789 total bridges being SD or FO. The state has 54 percent — 341 — of its 634 total interstate and state bridges in FO or SD condition — and 49 percent — 76 of 155 — of total city/county/township bridges in SD or FO condition. “We have instituted a plan that targets structurally deficient bridges,” David Fish with the Rhode Island DOT points out in his survey response.
The third ranking for combined overall FO/SD bridges is shared by Hawaii and Pennsylvania with a 38-percent rate of overall combined SD/FO bridges. Pennsylvania has a higher rate of problem city/county/township bridges — 46 percent, or 3,143 of its total 6,815 municipal bridges — than Hawaii which also has 36 percent, with 147 of its 403 bridges in SD/FO condition. However, Hawaii has more SD and FO interstate bridges, 39 percent, than Pennsylvania, which has 34 percent or 5,708 of its 16,718 total state and interstate bridges in either SD or FO condition.
But Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT) has an Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) that is focused on reduction of structurally deficient bridges, explains James M. Long, P.E., assistant chief bridge engineer. What’s more, “PennDOT has already implemented a design approach for 100-year bridge life to ensure durability,” Long says.
It appears the ABP has made a difference. Last year, Pennsylvania had the most combined structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges by state. Of its 23,562 surveyed last year, it had a combined 9,130 — or 39 percent — that were SD/FO. That figure is down 1 percent this year. Although its percentage of SD/FO city/county/township bridges hasn’t changed (46 percent), the state’s percentage of SD/FO state and interstate bridges has decreased by 2 percent from last year’s 36 percent.
The Hawaii DOT also expects to be able to lower its rate of deficient bridges in the coming year, but it will come “very slowly,” says Paul Santo, bridge design engineer for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “We have prioritized work on these bridges through our bridge management program,” he says.
New York State records the fifth-highest percentage of combined SD/FO bridges with 37 percent of its total 17,405 bridges bearing an SD or FO rating. Breaking it down, 39 percent — 3,215 — of New York’s 8,335 total interstate bridges are SD/FO, and 36 percent — 3,230 — of the state’s 9,070 city/county/township bridges are SD/FO.
Next is a tie between Connecticut and West Virginia with 36 percent of their total bridges in SD/FO condition. West Virginia has more total bridges — 2,509 — in SD/FO condition than Connecticut, which has 1,508 rated as SD/FO. But 71 percent, or 78, of West Virginia’s 110 total city/county/township bridge are SD/FO, while only 34 percent — 424 — of Connecticut’s 1,240 total city/county/township bridges are SD/FO.
The states are close in SD/FO state and interstate bridges. Connecticut has 2,934 total interstate bridges with 1,084 or 37 percent SD/FO. West Virginia is 2 percentage points lower at 35 percent, with 2,431 of its 6,896 total state and interstate bridges classified as SD/FO.
Agencies report that environmental restrictions and regulations continue to pose problems for replacing and repairing structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. This has been a chronic issue in Better Roads annual surveys.
The District of Columbia DOT says such restrictions do affect how well the agency is able to replace or repair bridges, but concedes that “environmental restrictions are [just] a part of working in an urban environment.”
The Nevada DOT says that environmental restrictions do have an impact on its ability to replace or repair bridges by resulting in a longer lead time for design, “but [they] are not insurmountable.”
For the North Carolina DOT, environmental restrictions mean that “funds are diverted from projects to pay for permits [that are] required.”
The Maine DOT also notes that environmental restrictions bring on “increased costs [that] reduce the number of bridges that can be fixed.”
Kentucky is feeling similar financial pains because of environmental regulations. “Sometimes we are required to stay out of the water due to endangered species,” David Steele, branch manager for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, notes in his survey response. “This increases the cost of the job. We then have less money for other bridge jobs.”
In Pennsylvania, permit and regulatory agency requirements are a consideration for project delivery, but don’t necessarily hinder how well the state can replace or repair its deficient bridges, says Long, PennDOT’s assistant chief bridge engineer. “PennDOT funds certain positions within the regulatory agencies as provided under SAFETEA-LU in order to facilitate project delivery,” Long says. “PennDOT also participates in monthly agency coordination meetings, which can also facilitate project delivery.”
Although environmental restrictions do not affect how well Tennessee is able to replace or repair its deficient bridges, they do affect how “quickly and costly (sic) bridges get let to contract for replacement and/or repair,” says Wayne J. Seger, civil engineering manager 2 with the Tennessee DOT’s Bridge Inspection and Repair Office. Michael B. Johnson, the office chief for the California DOT (Caltrans), agrees. He says that “permits slow the replacements and increase development costs.”
Greg Roby, deputy director of structures for the Maryland State Highway Administration, notes in his survey response that the agency is “spending increasing amounts of precious bridge funding to meet environmental (and other) requirements that have little or nothing to do with bridge preservation.”
But not all agencies are being troubled by environmental factors. In fact, the Florida DOT says restrictions haven’t had any impact on how well it is able to replace or repair a bridge.
The biggest problem across the country is lack of funds
Nearly all the state DOTs surveyed cited funding availability the greatest challenge in lowering their rate of deficient bridges. Heavy traffic, routing traffic during work on the structure and scour also came in at the top end of the list.
With the lack of a SAFETEA-LU reauthorization leaving the transportation construction industry in limbo for funding, many state agencies are apprehensive when it comes to planning for major projects. American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)’s “stimulus” funds have provided “a good momentum for addressing deficient bridge needs,” says Anwar Ahmad, assistant bridge engineer with the Virginia DOT (VDOT). “These funds were used to refund or rehabilitate 119 deficient structures,” he says, adding that about 20 percent of the bridge work was from ARRA funds.
What’s more, Ahmad notes, VDOT “fortunately has dedicated significant resources to [its] bridge program in the last few years” so insufficient funding shouldn’t restrict important work in the coming year. “The current funding level should be adequate for the delivery of the program this coming year.”
In Texas, which has the most bridges in the nation, 9,148 — or 18 percent — are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The Texas State DOT (TxDOT) says it should be able to lower this rate in the coming year. “Replacement priority is to replace ‘50’ [year-old] bridges first,” explains Alan Kowalik, TxDOT’s bridge inspection engineer. The state also has an “equivalent match” program to assist cities and counties with replacing bridges, he says. The Stimulus has also kicked in about 18 percent of funding throughout the past two years to help with the state’s bridge repair and replacement plans.
The Nebraska Department of Roads has also benefitted from ARRA, but the state has also established a dedicated fund to address high-priority bridges, which Steve Anderson, with the agency’s Bridge Division, says should help lower the state’s rate of deficient bridges. However, not surprisingly, Anderson says, “[we] always have more needs than funds.”
In 2009, ARRA funded about 32 percent of Pennsylvania’s bridge work. This year, the stimulus only funded about 4 percent, according to PennDOT. In Nevada, the Stimulus has supplemented zero percent of the state’s work this year, according to David Severns, assistant chief structures engineer with the Nevada Department Transportation (NDOT). But this hasn’t affected the state’s ability to fund important work. Severns says “continued use of federal Highway Bridge Program (HBP) funds” will allow the state to lower its rate of deficient bridges. In fact, the state has been working on one of the biggest bridge projects in the nation — the Hoover Dam Bypass project.
Tennessee, with 19,601 bridges — 3,414 of them, or 17 percent rated as SD/FO — was able to build or replace 81 bridges (48 local, 33 state bridges) with ARRA funds. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TennDOT) says that insufficient funding is still the biggest challenge in lowering the state’s rate of deficient bridges.
Seger, with TennDOT’s Bridge Inspection and Repair Office, says his agency doesn’t anticipate insufficient funds restricting important work in the coming year. In fact, TennDOT is currently in year two of a three-year program to retire about 200 structurally deficient bridges. But he does point out that when states get federal money for bridges, they should “use it for bridges. Do not allow bridge funds to be diverted to other things.”
Terry Udland, a bridge engineer with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, says that the percentage of work that came from the stimulus this past year was “minimal.” North Dakota has a combined rate of 21 percent of bridges that are SD/FO (out of 4,274 total bridges, 891 are SD/FO), but Udland notes that the state expects to lower its rate of deficient bridges in the coming year by replacing or overlaying deficient decks and through overall bridge replacements.
Maryland bridge authorities report that the state received a “modest amount” of ARRA funding for bridges, which it in turn applied to replacing, repairing or painting about 35 bridges.
The Stimulus also modestly helped the Oklahoma DOT (ODOT), which says that Stimulus money accounted for about 16 percent of its work. “It has had a very positive impact on bridge work in the state,” said Oklahoma’s survey respondent. The funds have allowed the re-decking of more than 40 bridges on I-244 in Tulsa, more commonly known as part of the Inner Dispersal Loop. “Due to many years of neglect, ODOT has fallen behind in the bridge programs,” according to the state agency. “In recent years, Oklahoma has made tremendous progress in continued and consistent funding, which is critical to improve bridge conditions.” An example of this progress is ODOT’s eight-year construction work plan that has allocated $361.3 million for bridge work in federal fiscal year 2011.
For the Georgia DOT, the stimulus didn’t supplement the agency at all because “[we] did not have plans on the shelf,” says Mike Clements, state bridge maintenance engineer with the Georgia DOT.
Eric J. Christie, assistant state maintenance engineer for bridges at the Alabama DOT, answered “no” when asked whether the state expects to be able to lower its rate of deficient bridges in the coming year.
Better Roads asked that with all the funding uncertainty, what major overhauls can be made to the system of planning, building and maintaining bridges in the nation at the federal state and local level?
The answer is continued and consistent funding, with the flexibility to address the most critical needs, says the Oklahoma DOT. Paul Santo, bridge design engineer with the Hawaii DOT, says there needs to be “more funding at all levels.”
Jeff C. Vigil, state bridge management engineer for the New Mexico DOT, says that “funding needs to be given to local bridges and lower-priority highway bridges on the state and federal system.” In addition to funding, though, Vigil notes, “more preventative bridge maintenance funding would greatly keep bridge future funding needs down.”
Louisiana DOT’s Bridge Engineer Manager Ray Mumphrey also agrees that more money needs to be spent on maintenance. TxDOT’s Kowalik says a dedicated bridge maintenance fund should be developed.
Other major overhauls suggested are the expansion of eligible work under the Highway Bridge Program (HBP) and considering the bridge development timetable so it’s reflected in future legislation. In overhauling the nation’s bridge program at the federal, state and local level, “uniformity in rules and a more streamlined process for the bridge program” should also be considered, says Cody Axlund, bridge inventory/inspection engineer for the South Dakota DOT.
Where and how could the nation even begin to implement these ideas and overhaul the planning, building and maintenance system for bridges, asked the survey?
Ahmad, with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), recommends developing a strategic approach at the federal, state and local levels “to deliver the most reliable bridge inventory in the world.”
The strategic approach can be accomplished, Anwar says, by dedicating adequate and sustained funding and resources to three distinct programs. He suggests a preventive/preservation program, a rehabilitation program, and a replacement program.
“The three programs should be based on life cycle and assets management principles,” Anwar advises. “Develop policies and processes around these programs that ensure consistency in measuring the effectiveness of these programs.”
Q and A
If you could change any aspect of your department to improve your bridges, what would it be?
Anwar Ahmad, assistant bridge engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT): “Direct more resources towards bridge preservation to perform cyclical preservation activities [on bridges] that are in fair to good conditions; improve design practices to construct maintenance-friendly bridges, i.e. eliminate expansion joints when possible; use corrosion-resistant steel reinforcement; place flexible wearing surface on newly constructed bridges with impenetrable membrane; and schedule the replacement of the overlay on a standard cycle, i.e. five, 10, or 15 years. Currently, VDOT is in the process of implementing most of these recommendations. ”
Wayne J. Seger, civil engineering manager 2 with Tennessee Department of Transportation’s bridge inspection and repair office: “Do more annual bridge cleaning, especially of expansion joints and steel trusses. Remove animal deposits, i.e. nests, etc.”
Lee Floyd, bridge maintenance engineer with the South Carolina Department of Highways: “[I’d change the] project selection process. [It’s] too simplified and not responsive to highest needs.”
Ray Mumphrey, bridge engineer manager with the Louisiana Department of Transportation: “Build more bridges with department personnel.”
David Severns, assistant chief structures engineer with the Nevada Department of Transportation: “Implement a bridge management system and more systematic bridge maintenance.”
Dan Holderman, bridge management engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation: “Commit more funding to bridge rehabilitation and replacement.”
Alan Kowalik, bridge inspection engineer with the Texas State Department of Transportation: “More bridge maintenance [to] maintain bridges to keep from becoming ‘50.’”
Charles P. Brand, bridge engineer for the Arkansas State Highway Transportation Department: “Implement bridge management for systematic maintenance of bridges to more effectively maintain our bridges with the money available.”
For the FHWA’s explanation of what makes a bridge structurally deficient and how a bridge becomes functionally obsolete, go to http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/2008cpr/chap3.htm#7.
Better Roads’ editorial staff would like to thank all the state highway engineers for their continuing cooperation and special effort to provide current data. The data was collected through October 2010. Click Here for pdf of 2010 Report.
How deficient and obsolete bridges break out in 2010
States and the District of Columbia have provided separate counts for the latest numbers on the breakdown of their structurally deficient (SD) and functionally obsolete (FO) bridges.
Q & A
If you could change any aspect of your department to improve your bridges, what would it be?
Jean A. Nehme, state bridge engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation: “Additional funding. Additional funding will allow [our agency] to repair/replace more bridges.”
Mark Leonard, staff bridge engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation: “It would be helpful to have more consistent and predictable long-term federal and state funding streams.”
Travis McDaniel, bridge engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation: “More preventive maintenance [so there is] less long-term deterioration.”
Ruby Bradley, Geometric & Accident Unit with the Kansas Department of Transportation: “Reduce environmental constraints [because it causes] delays and extra work.”
Jeff C. Vigil, state bridge management engineer with the New Mexico Department of Transportation: “Increase funding on secondary routes. Improve construction training.”
Oklahoma Department of Transportation (from media department): “Add more bridges and bridge inspectors. Additional qualified personnel would help keep our inspections current and further improve the quality.”
Jim Pierce, bridge management engineer for Minnesota Bridges and Structures: “Keep higher funding levels in place to maintain a sustainable network conditions level.”
Don Cooney, infrastructure project administrator with the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation Asset Management Division: “Increase funding for preventive maintenance.”
Benjamin W. Foster, assistant bridge maintenance engineer with the Maine Department of Transportation: “Increased costs reduces [the] number of bridges that can be fixed.”
Charles P. Brand, bridge engineer with the Arkansas State Highway Transportation Department: “Implement bridge management for systematic maintenance of bridges to more effectively maintain our bridges with the money available.”
David Steele, branch manager with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet: “Do more preventive maintenance and concentrate on making bridges more maintenance friendly. In the long run, it would cost less to maintain a bridge and they will last longer.”