NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are America's Bridges Falling Down?

February 20, 2001

Some engineering professionals and others contend many of the nation's bridges are in a sorry state and need immediate repair. But it is debatable whether any of them are on the verge of actual collapse.

Experts say the federal government does a worse job than the states of keeping the bridges it is responsible for in adequate repair.

  • Each day, an average of more than 31 million cars, trucks and their drivers rumble over 37,809 U.S. bridges that inspectors consider in need of replacement.
  • An average of more than 60 million vehicles daily cross 19,567 other spans considered so battered they require quick corrective action.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers -- which for years has contended that the U.S. needed to invest more in bridge repairs -- will issue a new assessment next month, which insiders say will describe the current situation as a trifle better than it was three years ago.
  • Although the federal government owns only 1,322 of the nation's 688,417 bridges, experts say it is the biggest laggard in replacing faulty structures.

Engineers make the point that bridges don't have constituents -- other than companies that would benefit from bridge construction or repair contracts.

The 1991 surface transportation bill allocated $16.1 billion over seven years for bridge repairs. The current bill sets aside $20.4 billion over six years.

Source: August Gribbin, "Thousands of 'Intolerable' U.S. Bridges Pose Risk for Drivers," Washington Times; and the Associated Press, "More than 25 Percent of Bridges in USA Rated 'Deficient' by Feds," USA Today; both on February 20, 2001.


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