Snapshot: The Current Condition of U.S. Bridges

…and the Implications for Infrastructure Spending

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has released a report about the condition of bridges in the United States at the beginning of 2022. It’s packed full of data that people in the bridge and road industry will find valuable. It provides a snapshot of the state of bridges in the country just as the Biden administration releases infrastructure funding that promises to significantly improve the condition of bridges and other infrastructure in the years ahead.

The new federal investment through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will provide additional resources for state highway construction, maintenance, and repairs over the next five years. This is in addition to two new programs just for bridge repair.

In this article, we reveal the report’s most important findings and explain the implications related to the new bridge funding. 

About ARTBA and the author of the report.

ARTBA is a non-partisan group. Its primary goal is to grow and protect transportation infrastructure investment to meet the public and business demand for safe and efficient travel.

The report was prepared by Dr. Alison Premo Black, a certified ARTBA executive who has led the development of more than 100 studies examining national and state transportation funding and investment patterns.

Bridges newly rated in poor condition.

The study includes a list of critical U.S. bridges that were rated “poor” for the first time in the last year. It shows that even though bridge infrastructure has improved over the last few years, the condition of many bridges is still declining.

Major bridges that are in poor condition include:

  • Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on Route 13, northbound in Northampton, Virginia.
  • U.S. 60/62 bridge over the Mississippi River connecting Illinois and Missouri.
  • 17th Street Bridge (SR 656) over the Indian River in Vero Beach, Florida.
  • US-1 Northbound over the St. Lucie River in Martin County, Florida.
  • U.S. 30 Mississippi River Bridge connecting Clinton County, Iowa, with Illinois.
  • Both spans of the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge over Lake Houston, Texas.
  • I-696 over I-75 just outside of Detroit, Michigan.
  • Multiple highway bridges on I-680 in Contra Costa, California.

The classification of the bridges on this list is based on the latest inspection. Inspections typically occur once every 24 months for most bridges. However, it can be more often if a bridge is known to be unsound.

Implications: Many states already have a plan for how they are going to allocate their new infrastructure dollars. As new critical connectors are found to be in poor condition, it’s necessary for states to be flexible and open to rethinking their priorities on how they spend the money.

States with the largest percentage of bridges in poor condition.

The bad news in 2020 was still bad in 2021. Despite improvements in the condition of bridges across the United States, the 10 states with the largest percentage of bridges in poor condition in 2021 was the same as the previous year, with only a few minor changes in the rankings.

  1. West Virginia (20.0%, #1 in 2020).
  2. Iowa (19.0%, #2 in 2020).
  3. Rhode Island (17.5%, #3 in 2020).
  4. South Dakota (17.3%, #4 in 2020).
  5. Pennsylvania (13.8%, #5 in 2020).
  6. Louisiana (12.8%, #7 in 2020).
  7. Maine (12.6%, #6 in 2020).
  8. Puerto Rico (12.1%, #8 in 2020).
  9. North Dakota (11.2%, #10 in 2020).
  10. Michigan (11%, #9 in 2020).

Implications: One of the criteria used to allocate bridge infrastructure dollars, in addition to population density and other factors, was the current condition of state assets. Since rankings did not change significantly year over year, it means the infrastructure money will still be going to the places that need it the most.

States with the largest number of bridges in poor condition.

The states with the largest number of bridges in poor condition in 2021 was almost the same as the year before. 

  1. Iowa (4,504 bridges, #1 in 2020).
  2. Pennsylvania (3,198 bridges, #2 in 2020).
  3. Illinois (2,405 bridges, #3 in 2020).
  4. Oklahoma (2,296 bridges, #4 in 2020).
  5. Missouri (2,218 bridges, #5 in 2020).
  6. New York (1,672 bridges, #6 in 2020).
  7. Louisiana (1,631 bridges, #7 in 2020).
  8. California (1,493 bridges, #9 in 2020).
  9. West Virginia (1,490 bridges, #8 in 2020).
  10. Ohio (1,334 bridges, #12 in 2020).

Implications: Ohio jumping into the top 10 ranking is bad news for the state. Since infrastructure funds were allocated based on the previous year’s bridge condition and ratings, the state will need to stretch their allocation and do more with the same funds.

States with the largest bridge deck area in poor condition.

People often pay attention to lists of the percentages and actual number rankings. But this deck area ranking list is equally — or more — important. It takes into account the actual bridge area that needs to be repaired, restored, or rebuilt.

  1. Rhode Island (19.5%, #1 in 2020) .
  2. West Virginia (15.p%, #2 in 2020).
  3. Illinois (12.0%, #3 in 2020).
  4. Massachusetts (11.3%, #4 in 2020).
  5. New York (10.5 percent #7 in 2020).
  6. South Dakota (9.7%, #6 in 2020). 
  7. Iowa (9.7%, #5 in 2020).
  8. Maine (8.9%, #14 in 2020).
  9. Puerto Rico (8.9%, #9 in 2020).
  10. Wyoming (8.6%, #13 in 2020).

Implications: There is bad news in this list for states like Maine and Wyoming, which will need to make already allocated infrastructure dollars cover more repairs than expected. There’s a lesson in this for states that aren’t keeping up with bridge maintenance and repairs. Every year they put the work off, the more impossible it becomes for them to get caught up.

Other key takeaways from the report.

  • About 36% of bridges in the United States — almost 224,000 of them — need repairs. 78,800 of these bridges should be replaced.
  • If placed end to end, these bridges would stretch more than 6,100 miles, which is long enough to go across the country from Los Angeles, California, to Portland, Maine, twice.
  • More than 43,500 bridges are rated in poor condition and classified as structurally deficient.
  • There were 4,361 bridges newly classified as structurally deficient in 2021. 
  • Drivers cross structurally deficient bridges almost 168 million times each day.
  • Almost half of the viaducts in the United States — 619,588 — are rated in fair condition. This means the bridge has minor deterioration or cracks that require repairs.
  • The number of bridges in fair condition increased by 2,916 in 2021.

Implications: While the recent infrastructure bill is historic in scope, many — including some of the Senators and members of Congress who approved the funding — question whether it’s enough to address the current bridge infrastructure problem. At the very least, it should help a few of the states in the top 10 lists get a foothold on the crises that they face.

The good news.

According to the ARTBA report, it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to bridges in the United States.

  • The number of structurally deficient bridges in 2021 declined by 1,445 compared with 2020. 
  • About 7% of the 2021 U.S. bridge inventory was structurally deficient. That’s compared to 7.3% in 2020.
  • More than 3,000 bridges that were structurally deficient in 2020 were removed from that list in 2021.

Much of this is due to the concerted efforts that many states, such as Nevada, have made to improve their bridges. 

Implications: Federal dollars will help states get caught up on backlogged bridge projects. However, states will still be primarily responsible for continuing to reduce the number of bridges that are structurally deficient or in poor condition.

The bottom line.

Based on repair and replacement cost numbers supplied by the Federal Highway Administration and submitted by bridge owners (typically state Departments of Transportation), ARTBA estimates that the cost of all the repairs currently needed on bridges in the United States is $260 billion.

Under the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act bridge infrastructure program, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will provide more than $27.5 billion to states for bridge repairs over the next five years. Another new IIJA-created discretionary bridge program, which will be administered by the U.S. DOT, will provide $12.5 billion for projects that will be awarded through 2026. State DOTs can also use federal formula highway fund programs, such as the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, for bridge improvements. The total for all state-focused formula programs is expected to increase from $45 billion in 2021 to $59 billion in 2022.

It’s easy to see that the amount allocated to bridges in the historic infrastructure bill and other federal programs is only enough to cover a fraction of the repairs that are currently needed. States and municipalities will still need to step up to keep the bridge maintenance, repair, and replacement issue in check.