Federal support needed to maintain safety and limit emergency repair costs of Maine’s 356 deficient bridges
Portland, Maine – A new report released today shows that Maine ranks ninth nationally in terms of the overall condition of the state’s bridges, with one being the worst, 51 being the best. The Fix We’re In For 2013 finds that drivers in Maine are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges rated structurally deficient – bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair.
The report is the latest update from Transportation for America, which produced a similar report in 2011, based on a national database of bridge inspections maintained by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA).
Today, one out of every seven bridges that motorists in Maine cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree; and 15 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient” according to government standards, compared to 11 percent nationwide. Nearly 67,000 bridges nationwide are classified as “structurally deficient.” FHWA 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.
“It is no secret that times are tough, but the safest and most economically viable approach we can take to Maine’s infrastructure is to protect the investments we’ve made with needed safety and structural upgrades,” said Nancy Smith, Executive Director of GrowSmart Maine. “Allowing roads and bridges to slip into disrepair ultimately costs state and local governments billions more than the cost of regular, timely repair. Deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly 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. Age is a major factor in bridge conditions. Roughly half of the structurally deficient bridges are 65 or older and in just 10 years, one in four will be over 65.
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.
Maine’s bridge condition improved slightly since the 2011 report, with the number of deficient bridges dropping by 33, from 389 to 356. The average age of Maine’s bridges is 50, and the average age of our structurally deficient bridges is 69.
“Preserving Maine’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.”
Transportation for America (T4 America) is the largest, most diverse coalition working on transportation reform today. Our nation’s transportation network is based on a policy that has not been significantly updated since the 1950’s. We believe it is time for a bold new vision — transportation that guarantees our freedom to move however we choose and leads to a stronger economy, greater energy security, cleaner environment and healthier America for all of us. We’re calling for more responsible investment of our federal tax dollars to create a safer, cleaner, smarter transportation system that works for everyone.
GrowSmart Maine is a statewide, non-partisan, non-profit that works at the intersection of Maine's economy, environment and communities. We know that when these three areas are working well and working together, we succeed as a state.
GrowSmart Maine actively brings together Maine citizens, government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to work for a more sustainable prosperity that supports both an improving standard of living and the protection of this state’s unique character, our quality of place.