A new report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) suggests that there are more than 55,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States, including the Brooklyn Bridge. Although being structurally deficient does not mean there is an imminent risk of a complete bridge collapse, it indicates there are sections of the bridge that have deteriorated to the point of requiring maintenance. If bridges go for too long without being properly repaired or replaced, they could be at risk of an eventual structural collapse.
Who has the Most Structurally Deficient Bridges?
According to the report, the top 14 most-traveled deficient bridges can be found in California, although with 55,000 structurally deficient bridges across the U.S., structures in need of repair or replacement can be found in every state. Of California’s 25,431 bridges, as many as 1,388 were found to be structurally deficient, with 4,587 classified as “functionally obsolete,” which means the bridge’s design standards do not meet current requirements. Each of the top 10 most structurally deficient bridges in California has more than 225,000 daily crossings.
Some of the bridges in California currently classified as structurally deficient have had that classification for a few years. For example, the Interstate 110 over Dominguez Channel was built in 1960 and has been deemed structurally deficient at least since 2013. Interstate 5 over B Street, however, was only deemed structurally deficient this past year.
New York also has a high percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Of 17,462 bridges, 1,928 are classified as structurally deficient and 4,531 are functionally obsolete.
California and New York, however, did not rank first in structurally deficient bridges. In terms of total number of deficient bridges, Iowa ranked first with 4,968 structurally deficient bridges. Pennsylvania came in second with 4,506 bridges in the category. In terms of percentage of structurally deficient bridges compared with the overall number of bridges, Rhode Island ranked first. With 772 bridges total and 192 structurally deficient bridges, almost one-quarter of Rhode Island’s bridges are structurally deficient. When looking at percentages, Iowa ranked second, with one-fifth of its bridges landing in the structurally deficient category.
“When a bridge is structurally deficient, one of the key elements—it’s either the actual deck, the superstructure or the substructure, which is the portion below the bridge—one of those on a scale of zero to nine with nine being excellent is rated at four or below, which means that it’s in poor or worse condition,” said ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black to 1010 WINS.
In all, the structurally deficient bridges are crossed approximately 185 million times daily.
Functionally Obsolete Bridges at Risk of Collapse
The Daily News notes that in the 2015 ARTBA report, California had more than 2,000 structurally deficient bridges. With 1,388 this year, California’s bridges are improving, but there are still many more bridges that need repair or replacement.
Bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete will not necessarily collapse in the near future, but being given those designations means the structure could be vulnerable to collapse. The Los Angeles Daily News notes that the Tex Wash Bridge east of Coachella Valley, which collapsed in July 2015, was deemed functionally obsolete.
Tex Wash Bridge Collapse
That bridge collapsed during a flood even though, according to USA Today, the bridge had received a sufficiency rating of 91.5 out of 100 and had received a high flood safety rating, indicating it should have withstood flooding. No one was killed in the 2015 bridge collapse, but six emergency responders later received medals of valor for saving the life of a motorist who was trapped in his truck with his legs pinned beneath the steering wheel, at risk of his truck being swept away by rushing waters.
“We are trained in a lot of cross disciplines,” firefighter David Hudson said. “We are trained in swift water rescue. We are trained in rope rescue. We are trained in building collapse and vehicle extrication. But you never think you would go on a call where you smash everything into one incident.”
Other Bridge Failures
Other bridges with functionally obsolete or structurally deficient classifications have also collapsed. In 2013, the I-5 bridge—also known as the Skagit River bridge—near Mount Vernon Washington collapsed after a truck hauling a tall load hit the bridge support trusses, causing a section to fall. Two vehicles fell into the river. Luckily, all three people were rescued with minor injuries.
In 2007, the I-35W bridge collapsed during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The Minneapolis bridge had been deemed structurally deficient for 17 years before it collapsed and was supposed to have been replaced in 2020 but collapsed well before the replacement would have taken place.
In 2016 a 12-year-old girl was killed and her mother was injured when a large truck with its boom up hit the bridge on Highway 36 at Highway 90 in Sealy, Texas, causing a partial bridge collapse. The girl was killed when debris from the bridge crushed the front of the vehicle she was in. That bridge, which was built in 1936, was considered functionally obsolete. A spokesperson for Texas Department of Transportation told local news that the bridge was considered functionally obsolete, because the lanes were not wide enough to accommodate the amount of traffic, but that the bridge did not have structural deficiencies.