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Tolling Points

Infrastructure Week Ahead: Bridge Repair Backlog Points to Funding Challenge

Bill Cramer

With IBTTA’s Maintenance & Roadway Operations Workshop set to convene in Norfolk, VA, June 23-25, one of the leading U.S. infrastructure organizations is out with some high-level recognition of the front-line challenges facing maintenance teams every day.

Drawing on the 2018 National Bridge Inventory released by the Federal Highway Administration in mid-March, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) distills some startling statistics.

  • Each day, Americans’ cars, trucks, and school buses make an estimated 178 million daily crossings over the country’s 47,000 structurally deficient bridges.
  • The structures in question would stretch from Chicago to Houston if they were placed end to end.
  • While state and local governments are scrambling to clear the maintenance backlog, the effort is daunting.
  • At present rates, it would take 80 years to get all the bridges up to standard.

“Including structurally deficient bridges, there are nearly 235,000 bridges across the country that need structural repair, rehabilitation or replacement,” the association states, citing the NBI data. “ARTBA estimates the cost to make the identified repairs for all 235,000 bridges is nearly $171 billion,” based on average cost data from FHWA.

Top-Down Meets Bottom-Up

For anyone who works in maintenance and roadway operations, it’s got to be a bit gratifying to read ARTBA’s analysis.

When your job involves peering at the components of an aging bridge structure to determine their condition, or making the case for a big, expensive repair or replacement project, you know that the local details matter. One of the best reasons to attend IBTTA’s annual Maintenance & Roadways Operations Workshop is to compare notes and share experiences with colleagues and peers who are doing similar work elsewhere.

But there’s a lot to be said for proof points and substantiation, for the raw data and detailed analysis that put a local problem in a broader context. The ARTBA report makes it easier for states to benchmark the performance of their bridges against others, but it also tells a wider story: That bridge maintenance and refurbishment is a big challenge that extends beyond any one state or county. It’ll be solved when local and national action, public and private sector dollars come together to deliver practical solutions.

Tolling Makes the Difference

IBTTA members’ experience also shows how tolling makes the difference in the way a bridge, tunnel, or highway is maintained.

As any tolling professional will tell you, any form of user financing represents a social contract with roadway users. The availability of steady, adequate cash flow creates the opportunity to keep facilities in safe working condition. The fact that drivers are paying for the roads they use sets the expectation that those dollars will be invested wisely and effectively.

Tolling has a proud history of delivering on that promise. ARTBA identifies Rhode Island as the state with the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, but the good news is that legislators have a plan: when Governor Gina Raimondo introduced Rhode Works in 2016, it was for the express purpose of getting a leg up on overdue bridge work.

The other takeaway from the ARTBA report is that anyone who crosses a bridge, anywhere in the United States or around the world, should thank a maintenance and roadway operations professional that they can count on getting to the other side. The expertise participants get to share at the Norfolk workshop next month will be their next contribution to the exceptional service that tolling agencies deliver every day.

Register today for the Maintenance & Roadway Operations Workshop, June 23-25, 2019 in Norfolk, VA.


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