Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Transportation for America names D.C.'s 10 worst heavy-traffic bridges

October 19, 2011 - 10:15 AM
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Average daily traffic: 48,000 cars.  Built: 1968. Last inspection: March 2009. 10 Photos
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)

Transportation for America, a large national, smart-growth group that encourages spending on infrastructure, has released a new report today on the state of America's bridges, and the verdict is not good. According to Transportation for America, 11.5% of the nation's highway bridges rank as "structurally deficient" and the average bridge is 42 years old. The average age of a bridge here in D.C. is nearly 57 years old.

What's more — many of D.C.'s own heavily-trafficked bridges, from the Key Bridge to the Anacostia Freeway, suffer from just these problems that Transportation for America emphasizes. The group has released a list of the 10 structurally deficient D.C. bridges with the most traffic that you should absolutely glance over.

Their data, which relies on numbers released in February by the Federal Highway Administration, paints a damning picture of how infrastructure has begun to fall apart throughout the nation, with an interactive map and state-by-state breakdown of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The District ranks as the 20th worst among those 51. Of the District's 234 bridges, 28 of them (about 12%) rank as "structurally deficient," according to the report. More than 866,000 people drive on these structurally deficient bridges every day. And what does "structurally deficient" mean? It's a government ranking that means the bridge "requires significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement."

"Today, one out of every eight bridges that motorists in the District of Columbia cross each day are likely to be deteriorating to some degree," the report declares.

How seriously should we take Transportation for America's report? My own reaction is a little mixed. The data is good and drawn from federal guidelines regarding these bridges, and I do think it's worth reviewing. At the same time, Transportation for America advocates strongly for more transportation spending, and their reports tend to take a very dramatic, if data-driven, tone in the name of those interests. I notice that the District Department of Transportation has already dismissed these fears in an Examiner piece that went live late yesterday and insisted that our bridges are safe. A great deal of money does go into maintaining our District's bridges. As the report itself said, we spent $63 million worth of our federal funds (more than 30%) on bridge upkeep in 2008.

But the report's conclusions are not surprising. Transportation for America says Congress needs to spend far more on bridge infrastructure to ensure we don't have thousands of drivers moving across structurally deficient bridges. As it stands, fixing D.C.'s bridges would cost each District resident about $1,109, the report estimates. Are you ready to pay the cost?

Update, 12:40 p.m.: Geoff Hatchard raised another point I'd be remiss not to include — the District is in the process of replacing and rehabbing some of these bridges. See here, for instance, information about DDOT's rehabilitation project for the New York Ave bridge, with construction expected to continue through 2013. The 16th Street Bridge will be replaced. Most notable, perhaps, is the 11th Street Bridge project initiated in 2009 — the $300-million move is the biggest thing that DDOT has ever done. Credit where credit's due, despite any worrying data from Transportation for America's report.

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