If there's a clear lesson from the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee closing for repairs and costing the trucking industry $2.4 million every day, it's that the U.S.'s roads and bridges need repair, and that delays can strike at any time.
A recent report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association detailed an exhaustive list of the country's bridges and found that 45,000 of these economically vital structures urgently need repair. The Federal Highway Administration considers a bridge in "poor" or structurally deficient condition if its deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert condition rank below acceptable standards.
"A bridge in poor condition requires repair or additional monitoring but is safe for public travel," the Federal Highway Administration told CCJ. "Safety is FHWA's number one priority."
Surprisingly, neither Arkansas nor Tennessee make the list, despite the recent mishap involving a snapped beam on the substructure. In fact, the Hernando de Soto bridge wasn't even listed as "poor" quality or structurally deficient, ARTBA told CCJ.
Below find a breakdown and analysis of the table above.
States with the most structurally deficient bridges
The top five states with the most structurally deficient bridges (Iowa, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Missouri) haven't changed since last year's rankings, but the lower half of the chart has moved around considerably.
Overall, the U.S. made progress over the last year, reducing the number of total structurally deficient bridges by 1,140, according to ARTBA.
Structurally deficient bridges average 68 years of age, and more than 170 million vehicles cross these bridges daily. ARTBA estimates that fixing the entire inventory of 45,000 poor quality bridges would cost $41.8 billion and take 40 years at the country's current pace.
President Joe Biden's proposed infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan, would allocate $115 billion of a proposed $2.25 trillion to fixing highways, roads, and bridges. The proposal states it would single out the ten most "economically significant" bridges in the U.S. for repair as well as 10,000 other bridges around the country, though the Biden administration has yet to specify which exact bridges it considers "economically significant."
Ultimately, the U.S. has nearly 50,000 subpar bridges across the country, and truckers and travelers cross them millions of times each day without incident.
States with the highest share of structurally deficient bridges
This list shows that while California may have 1,536 poor quality bridges, it's actually not that bad in comparison to other states. California has 38 million people and is larger in terms of square miles than any state besides Alaska or Texas. West Virginia, on the other hand, has nine more structurally deficient bridges than California, but only 1.7 million people and a territory less than one sixth of California's.
In other words, a trucker is much more likely to drive over a structurally deficient bridge in West Virginia, Iowa, or Rhode Island than they are in California.
States with the highest percentage of bridge deck area in poor condition
Structurally deficient bridges with poor superstructures or substructures still support millions of crossings every day, but for the over-the-road trucker, bridge deck area matters most. Rhode Island, one of the states with the highest share of structurally deficient bridges, takes the cake for greatest percentage of bad deck area, likely due to the state's small size and few bridges. West Virginia and Illinois also stand out as states with rough driving over bridges.
States with the most bridges in seriously bad condition
Even among bridges deemed structurally deficient, a few states stand out. Bridges in "serious" or worse condition may have problems like loss of a section or deterioration of primary structural components number in the thousands.
These states have the most bridges in "serious" or worse condition.
- Iowa: 1,762
- Oklahoma: 992
- Illinois: 764
- Pennsylvania: 728
- Missouri: 700
- Louisiana: 638