Press Releases
October 19, 2011

Nearly 1 in 10 bridges in Chicago structurally deficient, report shows

Chicago ranks 11th in its share of troubled bridges among areas between 2 Million; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Business, Union and Community Leaders Call for Adequate Federal Funding to Bring Illinois Bridges to a State of Good Repair

On the heels of the sudden closure of a major commuting bridge in Louisville, KY, a new report shows that Chicago has among the worst bridges among metropolitan areas its size, as determined by percentage of bridges rated as “structurally deficient,” according to a new report from Transportation for America.                           

In Chicago, an average of 71 drivers cross a deficient bridge every second, the study found. The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Metro-Area Bridges, ranks 102 metro areas in three population categories based on the percentage of deficient bridges.

“Across the State of Illinois there are 2,239 deficient bridges with more than 8.1 million vehicles crossing those bridges every day.  Meanwhile, 9.9 percent of Illinoisans are unemployed, with numbers far higher in the building and construction trades,” said Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.  “We need a long-term commitment from the federal government to make our roads and bridges safer and create jobs for people hit hardest by the recession.”

“Many of the bridges that our friends and neighbors cross in their daily commutes are unsafe or on the verge of becoming unsafe. Illinois is the transportation hub of the nation and many tons of products and commodities cross these bridges each day. It is critical that we contact our members of congress and urge them to work together to fund transportation infrastructure” Gideon Blustein, Executive Director, Infrastructure Council, Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “While Chicago bridges are in better shape than those in many areas our size, Illinois and the United States must have a world-class transportation system in order to remain competitive."

The report found that Pittsburgh, PA had the highest percentage of deficient bridges (30.4 percent) for a metro area with a population of over 2 million (and overall). Oklahoma City, OK (19.8 percent) topped the chart for metro areas between 1-2 million, as did Tulsa, OK (27.5 percent) for metro areas between 500,000-1 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, the metro areas that had the smallest percentage of deficient bridges are: New York, NY (9.8 percent) for the largest metro areas; Raleigh, NC (9.7 percent) for mid-sized metro areas; and Greensboro, NC (16.0 percent) for smaller metro areas.

“There are more deficient bridges in our metropolitan areas than there are McDonald’s restaurants in the entire country,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America, 18,239 versus roughly 14,000 McDonald’s. “These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation’s people and goods.”

Nearly 70,000 bridges nationwide are rated “structurally deficient” and are in need of substantial repair or replacement, according to federal data. Metropolitan-area bridges carry 75 percent of the trips that are made on structurally deficient bridges, he noted.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that the backlog of potentially dangerous bridges would cost $70.9 billion to eliminate, while the federal outlay for bridges amounts to slightly more than $5 billion per year.

“The recent shutdown of the Sherman-Minton Bridge between Kentucky and Indiana was yet another reminder of the urgent need to repair our nation’s bridges,” Corless said. “A sincere initiative to fix these bridges would put thousands of people to work while ensuring that these critical links continue to carry people safely to work and that goods can make it to market, now and well into the future.”

Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of America’s bridges to be of national significance. However, the current federal program falls short of the need, even as it allows states to shift funds from maintenance toward new construction, whether or not they can show progress toward rehabilitating deficient bridges.

Some states have worked hard to address the problem and have seen their backlog of deficient bridges shrink in number. However, two problems continue to persist: Existing federal programs offer no real incentives or assurances that aging bridges will actually get fixed; and the current level of investment is nowhere near what is needed to keep up with our rapidly growing backlog of aging bridges.

“The dangerous state of our bridges is a problem that is not going away,” said Brian Imus, State Director, Illinois PIRG “Most of the nation’s bridges were designed to last 50 years, and today, roughly a third are already 50 years or older, and the average age of bridges nationally is 42 years.”

In order to prevent future catastrophes on our nation’s roads and bridges, the report recommends that Congress should:

  • Provide states with increased resources to repair and rebuild. States need federal support to back their efforts to prioritize repair and maintenance.
  • Ensure that funds sent to states for bridge repair are used only for that purpose, unless a state can show it has addressed its repair needs. 
  • Require that new or rehabilitated be built so that they are safe for everyone who uses them, whether they are in vehicles, on foot or bicycle, or using public transit.

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Transportation for America (T4 America) is the largest, most diverse coalition working on transportation reform today. Our nation’s transportation network is based on a policy that has not been significantly updated since the 1950’s. We believe it is time for a bold new vision — transportation that guarantees our freedom to move however we choose and leads to a stronger economy, greater energy security, cleaner environment and healthier America for all of us. We’re calling for more responsible investment of our federal tax dollars to create a safer, cleaner, smarter transportation system that works for everyone.

Read the complete report here

See more photos here

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