States with the most dangerous bridges

It's estimated that 10% of the country's spans need serious repair or replacement. The problem is worst for motorists in these states.

By 247 Wall St. Jun 28, 2013 12:12PM
Bicyclist under bridgeSamuel Weigley and Alexander E.M. Hess, 24/7 Wall St. 

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From rural covered passes to modern engineering marvels, bridges overcome natural obstacles and expedite transportation. Yet many of the bridges that people drive on every day are in rough shape. According to one transportation group, more than one in 10 of the country’s bridges are in need of serious repair or replacement.


In many states, the situation is more dire. Nearly a quarter of the bridges in Pennsylvania are structurally deficient, according to Transportation for America, a grassroots organization advocating updated transportation infrastructure. Based on the group’s report, "The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Nation’s Bridges 2013," these are the states with the most dangerous bridges.


The states on this list tend to have older bridges -- their bridges' average age is older than the average age of all bridges nationwide of 43 years. In Pennsylvania, the states with the most dangerous bridges, the average age is 54, higher than all but four others.

David Goldberg, communications director with Transportation for America and a co-author of the report, explained that a large number of U.S. bridges were part of the transportation projects initiated shortly after World War II. 

"A lot of these bridges were born with the baby boomers," Goldberg said. "Like the baby boomers, they are nearing retirement age." 

Transportation for America projects that in 10 years, one in four bridges in the country will be at least 65 years old.


For most states, gasoline taxes are one of the most important sources of funding for bridge construction and repair. Not surprisingly, many of the states with structurally deficient bridges have lower gas tax rates than other states. 


But higher gas tax rates may not be sufficient to improve bridges in some states, Goldberg noted. Considering the number of bridges that need to be maintained, sparsely populated states simply do not have enough people filling up their tanks to bring in the revenue needed to rebuild or replace structurally unsound bridges. 


The website 24/7 Wall St. examined the list of states with the highest percentage of bridges deemed structurally deficient, defined by Transportation for America as structures that "require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement." These are the states with the most dangerous bridges.

1. Pennsylvania

Percent of bridges structurally deficient: 24.5
Number of bridges structurally deficient: 5,543 (the most)
Average bridge age: 54 years (5th highest)
State gas tax: 32.3 cents (15th highest)


No state has a higher percentage of deficient bridges than Pennsylvania. Goldberg points out that the state has made a significant effort to improve its bridges in recent years. In three counties -- McKean, Schuylkill and Potter -- more than 40% of the bridges are structurally deficient. The average age of all bridges in Pennsylvania is 54 years, higher than all but four other states. Although Pennsylvania still has more bridges in need of serious maintenance or replacement than any other state in the country, it has reduced the number of these problematic bridges by 500 since 2011, more than any other state except for Missouri. The Pennsylvania legislature is currently debating legislation that would increase the state's transportation funding by 50%.


2. Oklahoma
Percent of bridges structurally deficient: 22.6
Number of bridges structurally deficient: 5,382 (2nd most)
Average bridge age: 46 years (13th highest)
State gas tax: 17.0 cents (5th lowest)


None of the 10 states with a high percentage of deficient bridges has progressed less in repairing its bridges since 2011 than Oklahoma. In fact, the situation in Oklahoma further deteriorated. As many as 77 more bridges are deemed deficient now than were two years ago. More than 7.7 million vehicles use unsound bridges daily. In Tulsa County, 16.6% of daily bridge traffic is on bridges that need repairs or improvements. This amounts to an average of 7.2 million vehicles a day.


3. Iowa
Percent of bridges structurally deficient: 21.2
Number of bridges structurally deficient: 5,191 (3rd most)
Average bridge age: 44 years (17th highest)
State gas tax: 22.0 cents (18th lowest)


Iowa is one of just three states where more than 5,000 bridges are structurally deficient. In three of the state’s counties -- Adams, Davis and Ringgold -- more than 40% of the bridges are deficient, while in Lucas and Van Buren counties nearly 40% of the bridges are defective. The average age of all bridges and the average age of deficient bridges are both higher than the national averages. Members of the Iowa legislature attempted to raise the gasoline tax earlier this year to divert some of the revenue to maintenance projects through the state’s road fund. However, the legislation died because of Republican opposition.