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One Out of Eight State Bridges ‘Structurally Deficient,’ Says Report

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Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, California ranks 18th worst nationally in terms of the overall condition of the state’s bridges, according to a new report issued by Transportation for America, Washington, D.C., a national transportation reform coalition.

San Francisco’s Lefty O’Doul Bridge, built in 1933, needs more structural upgrades.
San Francisco’s Lefty O’Doul Bridge, built in 1933, needs more structural upgrades.
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Within the state, San Francisco County leads the way with 40 structurally deficient bridges out of 116, or 34.5%, followed by Madera County with 74 of 229 or 32.3%.

According to the report: “Today, one out of every eight bridges that motorists in California cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree; and 12.8% of bridges statewide are rated ‘structurally deficient’ according to government standards, compared to 11.5% nationwide.”

The report says that most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years. The average age of bridges in the U.S. is 42 years old. California’s average is 44.4 years old. More than 8,300 California bridges are now 50 years old or older. By 2030, that number could more than double to over 19,000 without substantial bridge replacement, according to the report.

“California would need $323 from each licensed driver to address all the bridge needs identified in 2009,” the report says. Transportation for America says that the good news is that some states have worked hard to address the problem and have seen their backlog of deficient bridges shrink in number. The bad news is that, critical as these efforts are, they are not nearly enough. Two key problems persist: 1) An absence of real incentives and assurances at the federal level that fixing aging bridges is a top funding priority; and 2) Federal investment in fixing the nation’s infrastructure is not currently tied to performance and accountability measures, leaving Americans no concrete assurances of progress.

According to figures from the Federal Highway Administration, as of 2010, California had 24,542 highway bridges: 12,287 of them owned by the state; 11,710 owned by local counties, cities and towns; and 545 owned by other entities, such as private business and federal agencies. Federal law requires states to inspect all bridges 20 ft or longer at least every two years.

“It’s frightening to us that the typical life of a bridge is 50 years and California’s average age is currently 44 years old,” says Paul Meyer, executive director of the California chapter of American Council of Engineering Cos. “It’s equally disconcerting that 12.8% of bridges statewide are structurally deficient and many more may be at risk seismically.”

Meyer says the Transportation for America report “underscores the need for financing on local, state or federal levels – or all three.”

Caltrans released a statement after the report was released:

“Caltrans has a robust bridge management program in place, which includes the inspection, maintenance, and preservation of 24,000 state and local bridges to ensure our state bridges are safe. Bridges are a vital link in moving goods across the nation and play a critical role in California’s economic recovery, but protecting this valuable asset is becoming a challenge due to the effects of age and increasing demand.

“Additional federal transportation resources will allow California to deliver more bridge improvements to keep millions of motorists and billions of dollars of commerce moving. California needs a continued, stable and reliable long-term investment strategy from the federal government that can support the state’s highways and bridges to provide the continued safety of motorists and support economic activity.”

For a copy of “The Fix We’re In For: The State of California’s Bridges,” click here.

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