ASCE: Decaying Bridges Span Nation

The American Society of Civil Engineers says the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis is a "glaring example" of the nation's infrastructure crisis. As outlined in the group's 2005 infrastructure report card, about 159,000 of the country's 590,750 bridges are deficient or obsolete. In the wake of Wednesday's disaster, ASCE says it is proactively providing information and technical expertise and is calling for public policy action to make the nation safer and sustainable for future generations with an "Infrastructure Action Plan" that spells out steps Congress should take to shore up problems. The Reston, Va.-based group estimates it will cost $9.4 billion over the next 20 years to repair all faulty bridges, and ASCE is not alone in its assessment.

A Federal Highway Administration inventory of bridges estimates that about 73,000 bridges are structurally deficient and an additional 80,000 are "functionally obsolete," meaning they are carrying more traffic than they are designed for. According to FHA, there are 756 steel deck truss bridges similar to the one in Minneapolis. On Aug. 2, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered that states inspect them all.

"What happened in Minnesota is simply unacceptable," said Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. "We must have a top-to-bottom review of the bridge inspection program to make sure that everything is being done to keep this kind of tragedy from occurring again." Peters pledged an immediate $5 million "to help restore the traffic flow, to clear the debris, to set up detours and to begin the repair work." She also asked the DOT inspector general to examine the highway administration's national bridge inspection program for any lapses.

In a previous audit, the inspector general's office found that more than 6,300 of the 114,000 national highway system bridges are "structurally deficient," defining "deficient" as "major deterioration, cracks or other deficiencies in their decks, structure or foundations." But the same report found that while bridge inspections in three states that it analyzed--Massachusetts, Texas and New York--proved adequate, inspectors made mistakes in calculating the load that 12 of the 33 bridges examined could bear. As structural problems develop, the report said, transportation officials need to do a better job of limiting the weight of vehicles using decaying bridges.

ASCE's 2005 report card gave U.S. bridges an overall grade of C, which was one of the higher marks. The report gave U.S. infrastructure as a whole a grade of D. For more information, visit www.asce.org.

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