Building (and Selling) Bridges

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As one of my colleagues pointed out recently, Infrastructure Week is coming up: this year it’s May 13–30, and as always, it’s a time for cities, counties, states, and private companies to highlight what they’re doing—and what’s still needed—to improve our nation’s roads, waterways, power grids, and much more. What new technologies are on the horizon? How will our jobs change because of them? How will we pay for it all?

The theme of Infrastructure Week 2019 is #BuildForTomorrow. One state agency is doing just that, and what’s unusual is the way in which it’s publicizing its efforts. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has launched a program called “Bridging Kentucky.” According to KYTC, “In 2019 alone, approximately 400 bridge projects will move from design and planning to construction, making this one of Kentucky’s busiest years of bridge building.”

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The most recent American Society of Civil Engineers report card, in 2017, gave US infrastructure an overall grade of D+. Bridges as a category fared just slightly better, with an overall grade of C+, and ASCE pointed out that more than 8% of Kentucky’s 14,265 bridges were structurally deficient. So it’s all to the good that the state is working toward improvement, investing some $350 million to do so.

The process of actually repairing or replacing bridges, though, can cause hassles for motorists, especially if the purpose of the work or the reasons for the traffic delays and detours aren’t clear. This is where KYTC’s public relations efforts come into play. I wish more stormwater programs would be as clear about the work they’re doing and why it’s necessary.

First, KYTC has pointed out that, because it’s treating the bridge projects as a group rather than a series of individual efforts, it’s saving taxpayers’ money. “Efficiencies are created by designing and planning similar bridges as a group rather than as individual projects,” says the agency, noting that it has added 120 bridges to the program; it will tackle 460 bridge projects rather than the originally planned 340, all with the same $350 million that the state legislature has already set aside.

It’s also adopting a “worst first” policy, going after bridges that are closed or that are not rated for buses and emergency vehicles to use. Smaller bridges—those that might not have received state funding on their own—will also be included in the program. Beyond the initial effort, KYTC plans to repair or replace 1,000 bridges throughout the state in the next six years—including at least one in each of the state’s 120 counties. The agency is using social media and a website to answer residents’ questions, explain how it determined which bridges to address and how it analyzed costs to determine whether it made more sense to repair or replace each one, and allow access to a complete list of the affected bridges.

Are you aware of similar effective educational efforts for stormwater projects in your area—perhaps explaining why large capital improvement projects are necessary, explaining green infrastructure or how the city is addressing CSOs, or—maybe the most difficult of all—convincing people that a stormwater fee is a good idea? Leave a comment and a link to the relevant website, if you have one.

You can read more about Kentucky’s program at You can also find more information about Infrastructure Week, including planned events and podcasts, at SW_bug_web

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