To Avoid More Bridges Collapsing, We Need More Infrastructure Investment
by Nick Schwellenbach, 5/24/2013
The Interstate 5 (I-5) highway bridge collapse—which sent cars and people into the Skagit River without any fatalities—near Mount Vernon in Washington State should be a stark reminder that we urgently need to expand investments into repairing and upgrading our nation’s infrastructure.
The need is immense.
In a 2013 report card on the state of American infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated our nation’s infrastructure overall as a D+. This infrastructure examined includes dams and levees, wastewater treatment, hazardous waste disposal and management, bridges, roads, airports, rails, ports, schools, power generation, and more.
Regarding bridges, ASCE’s report card states:
In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.
Three states—Iowa, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania—have over 5,000 bridges deemed structurally deficient, according to Federal Highway Administration data.
Overall, ASCE estimates “the investment gaps will total $1.1 trillion by 2020, and will grow to $4.7 trillion by 2040.” Without these expenditures, we’ll actually end up paying more. Businesses will see increased costs of $1.2 billion and consumers of over $600 billion without infrastructure improvements due to delays, inefficiencies, rising cost of power, etc. On the other hand, expanding infrastructure investments would create millions of jobs and lay the foundation for broader economic prosperity.
The costs of failing to invest in infrastructure are not simply monetary. Lives are at stake. While the I-5 bridge collapse thankfully saw no fatalities, 13 people were not as lucky in the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota.
This is an area that should bring Americans together regardless of their other political beliefs. As The New York Times reported in April, the American Conservative Union wrote in a proposal to advocate for more infrastructure spending that "These investments are core, constitutional federal responsibilities and should be so treated in the allocation of federal resources."