Bridges at risk in Minnesota and Nationally

From Andrea Kiepe, Transportation for America

Interactive map showing all structurally deficient bridges within 10 miles of any location in the US.

One in nine of the bridges and overpasses American drivers cross each day is rated in poor enough condition that they could become dangerous or be closed without near-term repair, according to a report from Transportation for America. One out of every eleven bridges that motorists in Minnesota cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree; and 8.8 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient,” according to government standards.

Minnesota ranks 34th 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: The State of Minnesota’s Bridges” finds that drivers in Minnesota are regularly traveling across heavily trafficked bridges with “poor” ratings – bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair.

Twenty-three states across the country have a higher percentage of deficient bridges than the national average of 11.5 percent. The five states with the worst bridge conditions, with more than 20 percent structurally deficient bridges, are Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

Most bridges in use today were designed to last roughly 50 years before reconstruction or replacement. Today, roughly a third of the nation’s 600,000 highway bridges are 50 years old or older. Minnesota’s average is 35.2 years old.

Deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as making the preventative repairs that ward off serious deterioration. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly burdens taxpayers.

“As Congress takes up the next six-year transportation bill, it is imperative that we devote a larger share of funding to protecting our bridges, and we must hold states accountable for doing so,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. Americans also want to see more accountability for maintaining our infrastructure: 64 percent of voters say that the way government currently spends money on building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure is inefficient and unwise, according to a February poll for the Rockefeller Foundation,

Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of our bridges to be of national significance. However, the current federal program falls short of the need, even as it allows states to shift funds from maintenance toward new construction, whether or not they can show progress toward rehabilitating deficient bridges.

Some states have worked hard to address the problem and have seen their backlog of deficient bridges shrink in number.

After the devastating I-35 bridge collapse in 2007, Minnesota took a proactive step in 2008 by passing the Trunk Highway Bridge Improvement Program, providing $2.5 billion in state funds over ten years to rehabilitate or reconstruct structurally deficient bridges, prioritizing those with higher traffic volumes and those classified as “fracture critical.” This effort has greatly improved Minnesota’s network of bridges, but problems remain.

“It really shows the scale of the problem, when after a multi-billion dollar bridge repair effort, Minnesota is just above average. And we have some rural counties with one fifth or more of their bridges structurally deficient,” said Andrea Kiepe MN Organizer with Transportation for America.

A recent story in the LaCrosse Tribune indicated that drivers have been ignoring weight limits that Mn/DOT posted last June on a 69-year old bridge in Winona, Minnesota, after the discovery of nine corroded gusset plates. The bridge over the Mississippi River is not slated for reconstruction until 2014.

“We have big problems with the condition of our existing bridges and highways. Yet, we continue to fund new interchanges and highway and bridge widening projects. We’ve been expanding highways for decades. Now we need to focus on repair of the roads and bridges in place today and on building out the network for other modes: transit, sidewalks, bike routes, and trails,” said Barb Thoman, executive director of Transit for Livable Communities.

“Additional funding for bridges will enhance mobility, economic development and safety on roadways throughout all of Minnesota. Moreover, bridge upgrades always leverage funding from local, state and federal sources, demonstrating that it is only through a collective and concerted effort that we will be able to ensure that present and future generations have access to the high quality infrastructure that is required of a successful 21st century civilization, ” said Ryan O’Connor, with the Association of Minnesota Counties.

In order to prevent future catastrophes on our nation’s roads and bridges, Congress should:

·Provide states with increased resources to repair and rebuild. States need federal support to back their efforts to prioritize repair and maintenance.

·Ensure that funds sent to states for bridge repair are used only for that purpose.

· Require that rehabilitated or rebuilt bridges are safe for everyone who uses them, whether they are in vehicles, on foot or bicycle, or using public transit.

The release of The Fix We’re In For: The State of our Bridges is the first in a series of reports and web components as part of a new campaign from Transportation for America. The report and its online maps can be found at or

Transportation for America (T4 America) is the largest, most diverse coalition working on transportation reform today. Transit for Livable Communities is a member of the T4America coalition. 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.