Very few of us are fond of our morning commute. Now imagine if you had to travel many miles out of your way because of a closed bridge—one that’s unlikely to be repaired anytime soon—or an impassable road.
That’s the situation facing many people in Mississippi, just one of the many states that has a bridge problem. As this article points out, 500 bridges in Mississippi, one of the nation’s poorest states, have been permanently closed for safety reasons. “Another 1,742 are posted with specific weight limits because of structural deficiencies. Combined, that accounts for more than 20% of the county and local bridges in the state,” according to the article.
What does that mean for residents? The article notes one farmer who “has watched the production cost for each bushel of soybeans increase by more than seven cents because his harvest truck has to take circuitous routes.” Others worry that an ambulance or fire truck won’t be able to reach them in an emergency.
Worse than the closures, of course, would be the collapse of a bridge that had been left open when it shouldn’t have been, as happened in 2007 in Minneapolis, when the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River failed suddenly. It was Minnesota’s third-most-trafficked bridge, and 13 people died during the rush hour collapse. Although a design flaw has been cited as the reason for that event, inspections of the bridge had noted corrosion and other problems, and the bridge at one point received a rating of “structurally deficient.” “Approximately 75,000 other US bridges had this classification in 2007,” this article notes.
The 2017 Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave bridges, as a category, a grade of C+, which is at least better than the overall grade of D+ for all categories of the nation’s infrastructure. “The US has 614,387 bridges, almost four in 10 of which are 50 years or older. 56,007—9.1%—of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016, and on average there were 188 million trips across a structurally deficient bridge each day,” according to ASCE’s site. “While the number of bridges that are in such poor condition as to be considered structurally deficient is decreasing, the average age of America’s bridges keeps going up and many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of their design life. The most recent estimate puts the nation’s backlog of bridge rehabilitation needs at $123 billion.”