Bridge Collapse Spurs Senate Action to Study Infrastructure
In response to the catastrophic collapse of the main 458-foot span of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has stepped up efforts to disseminate technical information on the current state of disrepair in the nation’s infrastructure.
ASCE-endorsed legislation to create a commission to study the nation’s infrastructure needs received priority treatment in the U.S. Senate following the incident in which dozens of vehicles, tons of concrete and twisted metal were sent into the waters of the Mississippi River 64 feet below.
Built in 1967, the bridge carries 140,000 vehicles a day. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating what could have caused this incident.
Late on Aug. 2, the Senate passed the National Infrastructure Improvement Act, S. 775, which would establish a national commission to assess the physical condition of the U.S. infrastructure and recommend ways to improve it. The bill would create a National Commission on the Infrastructure of the United States charged with completing its study by Feb. 15, 2009.
The study would report on infrastructure improvements that aid in long-term economic development; the age and condition of public infrastructure; financing methods for the construction and maintenance of public works projects; trends in innovative financing and investment needs; and the projected federal and state share of investment.
ASCE’s 2005 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” indicated that between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of the nation’s 590,750 bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete decreased slightly from 28.5% to 27.1%. However, it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies.
The Federal Highway Administration's strategic plan envisions bringing the share of the nation’s bridges classified as deficient down to below 25% by next year, but that would still leave one in four bridges in that category, the ASCE report card pointed out. Also, a significantly higher percentage of urban bridges than rural bridges have been classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
A structurally deficient bridge is closed or restricted to light vehicles because of its deteriorated structural components, according to the ASCE. While not unnecessarily unsafe, these bridges must have speed and weight limits.
A functionally obsolete bridge has older design features and, while it is not unsafe for all vehicles, it cannot safely accommodate current traffic volumes and vehicle sizes and weights.
“These restrictions not only contribute to traffic congestion, they post such major inconveniences as school busses or emergency vehicles taking lengthy detours,” the ASCE said.
To read the legislation, click here and enter S. 775 in the box at the center of the page.