America's bridges are crumbling: here are the iffy ones near you

February 23, 2017

It's no secret that America's highways and byways are falling apart.

Sometimes, the issues are painfully obvious: potholes, eroded shoulders, faded and missing lane markings. Other times, the trouble spots are harder to see, especially on bridges, where the problems may lie in crumbling supports or rusty decking.

How bad are the bridges near you? There's now a handy, dandy county-by-county guide*. Because, of course, you don't already have enough to worry about.

Before you dive into that data, though, here's a quick recap about the state of America's infrastructure:

  • At last count, one-third of our roads were in desperate need of repair and our 607,380 bridges needed $3.6 trillion worth of TLC. In fact, nearly 21,000 of them were rated "fracture critical". (Those stats are from 2013, by the way. A new assessment is due to be published this year, but we're not expecting things to have improved dramatically--or at all.)
  • Roads have a direct effect on our wallets: infrastructure problems cost U.S. motorists an average of $500 each year.
  • In a ranking of infrastructures around the world, ours is the 13th worst--not quite as bad as the Dominican Republic, but on par with Latvia and Peru.

Why is the situation so appalling? How can a global superpower exist without well-maintained roads and bridges? That's an excellent question, and it comes with a very simple answer: money.

Moolah, moolah, moolah

Much of the funding that the U.S. uses to keep its infrastructure in check comes from the federal government. Even state roads depend heavily on federal cash for maintenance and upgrades.

Unfortunately, that funding is largely derived from the federal gas tax, which currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon of gas and 24.4 cents for diesel.

Anyone want to guess when that tax was last increased? No? Try 1993. Show of hands from all those people who could live on what they were earning 24 years ago. Yeah, our infrastructure is in the same boat. 

One way to fix the problem would be through a system of progressive road taxes--a kind of "pay as you go" model. That approach makes sense to many observers, but implementation would be tricky and likely expensive. Would highways be converted to toll roads? Would drivers have to equip their vehicles with GPS devices so their mileage could be tracked and taxes? Could states check odometers and charge drivers when they carry out brake tag and other inspections? Who would collect that money and how would it get to the feds? Ugh.

Of course, the easier way to bring our infrastructure up to snuff would be via a long-overdue increase in the federal gas tax, but so far, our friends in Washington have been unwilling to consider such a bold measure, even now, at a time when gas prices are low.

Interestingly enough, Donald Trump campaigned on promises to make more than $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements--promises that Democrats have been making for years but haven't been able to deliver on because of Republican opposition. Now that the idea of increased federal spending is coming from within the GOP itself, will Republicans change their minds? Will they back plans like those proposed by Democrats

We have no idea, but it'll certainly be interesting to watch.

*Note: The data from this guide comes from 2015. 

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