Rural America is home to one out of four people in the country — but it has more than half of the bridges federal highway engineers say are in severe need of repair or replacement.
According to a new study from Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C. advocacy organization, just over 10% of the nation’s 605,000 bridges are in need of substantial repair or replacement. Of those 66,000 substandard bridges, 36,800 can be found in rural counties.
In the map above, the rural counties in red have more than 13% of their bridges deemed “structurally deficient” by federal highway engineers. Rural counties in blue have less than 13% of their bridges considered in need of repair or replacement.
Nationally, 11% of all bridges are considered structurally deficient.
(Click on the map and you’ll get an interactive version. Click on any county and you’ll see the number of bridges, the number that are deficient and the amount of traffic these substandard bridges receive each day.)
Transportation for America figures that if all the nation’s structurally deficient bridges were laid end to end, the ribbon of failing concrete, wood and steel would reach from Washington, D.C. to Denver, Colorado.
Although rural counties have a disproportionate number of substandard bridges, most of the trips taken over deficient bridges take place in metropolitan areas, because those areas have higher traffic volume.
Almost 90% of the trips taken daily over structurally deficient bridges occur in metro counties.
Rural counties have only a bit more than 10% of the daily traffic driven over bridges in need of repair.
The average American bridge is 43 years old. Half of the deficient bridges are 65 years or older. In 10 years, one in four bridges nationally will be over 65.
The total cost of repairing these bridges is $76 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Last year, however, Congress eliminated a dedicated fund used to repair these structures.