PHILADELPHIA – At least $140 billion is needed to make major repairs or upgrades to one of every four U.S. bridges, transportation officials from states across the country said in a report released Monday.
State officials said bridge repairs are just one element of a pressing need for more federal funding to improve the country's deteriorating transportation infrastructure.
"We need federal intervention, and federal intervention at a big level," Gov. Ed Rendell said after details were released of the report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The report cited Federal Highway Administration statistics that 152,000 out of the nation's 600,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The $140 billion price tag was derived by multiplying the total number of square meters of the problem bridges by the average cost per square meter — in 2006 dollars — to do the work.
"States are doing their best to improve them, but construction costs are skyrocketing ... forcing states to delay needed repairs," said Pete K. Rahn, head of the Missouri Department of Transportation and the group's president.
"Without a national commitment to increasing bridge investment, we will see a continuing spiral towards deterioration and, ultimately, bridge closures in order to protect the traveling public," he said.
The news conference announcing the report was held in North Philadelphia near the spot where a 6-foot crack in a concrete support pillar beneath Interstate 95 forced three days of emergency repairs in March, shutting down the busy highway and choking secondary roads with 185,000 vehicles that were detoured daily.
The "Bridging the Gap" report was released just days before the first anniversary of the Aug. 1 bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people.
Rendell said a congressional study committee found state and local sources account for 75 percent of the $80 billion spent annually on transportation infrastructure.
"No matter how hard a state applies its efforts and its resources to this problem, it's never going to make enough of a dent without significantly and radically increased federal help," Rendell said.
Typically built to last 50 years, the average U.S. bridge is 43 years old and approaching the age for replacement, according to the report.
The report's suggestions include increasing gasoline taxes and new taxes on alternative fuels, turning free highways into toll roads and increasing private investment in public works.