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Report: More than 1 in 10 Michigan bridges are substandard

Federal, state commitments needed to ensure safety, reliability
Jun 19, 2013
More than 12 percent of Michigan’s bridges are structurally deficient, according to a new national report. The Fix We’re In For 2013, released today by Transportation for America, finds that drivers in Michigan are regularly traveling across bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair.

Michigan’s ranking improved slightly since Transportation for America produced a similar report in 2011. That report showed 13.1 percent of bridges were substandard. This year’s report showed 12.3 percent were deficient. The conclusions are based on a national database of bridge inspections maintained by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA).

Nationally, 11 percent of bridges were deemed deficient. Michigan ranked 18th among states – meaning 17 states had higher percentages of bad bridges.

Nearly 67,000 bridges nationwide are classified as “structurally deficient.”The Federal Highway Administration estimates that transportation agencies would need $76 billion to overcome the current backlog of deficient bridges. Without significant federal support, the poor condition of bridges across the country has major implications for safety, mobility and economic activity.

“The safest and most fiscally responsible approach we can take is to make sure our transportation dollars are focused on maintaining existing infrastructure and investing in a modern transportation system,” said Tim Fischer, deputy policy director with the Michigan Environmental Council. Fischer noted that Gov. Rick Snyder – both in his budget and State of the State address – has been supportive of investments in road, bridge and transportation infrastructure. “It is vital that the Michigan Legislature act this summer to help raise the badly needed revenue to meet these obligations,” said Fischer.

Ignoring repair needs will cost taxpayers more in the long run, said John LaMacchia, legislative associate with the Michigan Municipal League: “Allowing roads and bridges to slip into disrepair ultimately costs state and local governments billions more than the cost of regular, timely repair,” said LaMacchia. “The backlog also increases safety risks, stalls economic prosperity and burdens taxpayers.”

The need is growing rapidly, the report notes: While most bridges are designed to last 50 years before major overhaul or replacement, American bridges average 43 years old. Michigan’s bridges also average 43 years old, but the average age of the state’s deficient bridges is 64.

Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of our bridges to be of national significance. However, the money to fix them is getting harder to come by with declining gas tax revenues and a fiscal squeeze at all level of government. At the same time, Congress made the prospects for bridges even more uncertain last year by eliminating a dedicated fund for them in its update of the federal transportation program. The new law also reduces access to funds for 90 percent of structurally deficient bridges, most of which are owned by cash-strapped local governments. Now bridges are left to compete with every other priority.

“Preserving Michigan’s existing transportation system is crucial to ensuring regional prosperity, safety and a higher quality of life,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “The economic and social cost of neglect is simply too high. It is time for our policymakers to shore up our infrastructure and ensure Americans get the most bang for our transportation buck.”

 The report is available at: http://t4america.org/resources/bridges/

Tim Fischer, Michigan Environmental Council: 734-255-9206
John LaMacchia, Michigan Municipal League: 517-908-0303
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