Is the End Near for the Nation’s Infrastructure?

Trucks — and every other vehicle that travels America’s roadways, are at risk. Not from careless drivers, but from declining infrastructure.

Due largely to budget issues and inattention, roads and bridges, as well as other infrastructure including airports, water and sewer lines, and even public transit, are rapidly deteriorating. The entire scope of U.S. infrastructure was given a D+ rating in the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. Roads across the country received a D, while bridges faired only slightly better with a C+. Just like in school, a D is equivalent to barely passing, meaning that conditions are “mostly below standard” with a “strong risk of failure.”

Troubled Bridges

Every day 188 million vehicles throughout the U.S. temp fate crossing a bridge or overpass rated in such poor condition to be deemed dangerous and need of major repairs. Not surprising, considering that of the nation’s 614,387 bridges, 40 percent are 50 years or older and nearing the end of their intended lifespan.

Iowa’s 5,067 structurally deficient bridges earned the Hawkeye State the top spot in this most recent ASCE survey. Six of those bridges are located on interstate highways. Luckily, for commercial carriers, the vast majority of Iowa’s structurally deficient bridges are located on rural and local roads. Out of 24,215 bridges in the state, nearly 20 percent are posted for load, which may restrict the size and weight of vehicles crossing the structure.

Extreme weather is to blame for a number of bridge failures. Headlines warning of closures in hurricane states are all too common. Recently, during Hurricane Florence, a rain-battered bridge on South Carolina’s Hwy 145 gave out under the added weight of a loaded tractor-trailer.

While there may not be a lot of bridges in immediate danger of collapse, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Wayne Klotz cautioned that most bridges are not designed “to accommodate three to four feet of rain at a time.”

Find out the status of bridges along your route.

Weary Roads

America’s roads are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition

and our roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs. After years of decline, traffic fatalities increased by 7 percent from 2014 to 2015, with 35,092 people dying on America’s roads.

Road systems are carrying volumes beyond what they were designed for, which increases congestion. In 2016 alone, U.S. roads carried people and goods over 3.2 trillion miles — or more than 300 round trips between Earth and Pluto. The American Transportation Research Institute reported congested highways cost the trucking industry $63 billion in 2015 and caused 996 million hours of lost productivity. That’s equal to 362,000 trucks sitting idle for a year.

Washington, DC earned the dubious distinction of worst roads in America with 95 percent of their 1,507 miles of public roads in poor condition. Northeastern states figured highly at the top (or bottom) of the list with Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut receiving below average scores.

Old man winter can be to blame for much of the northeastern road troubles. Science 101 tells us that when asphalt freezes and thaws, it can develop cracks. Water them seeps in and expand when it freezes, widening the cracks even more. Infrastructure planners in states where the weather report most often calls for chilly temps are in a constant fight to maintain their roadways This struggle explains why the frozen north of Alaska tops the list for the most state highway spending, at $2,374 per driver. Patching is often the preferred fix as a New Hampshire Department of Transportation official explained to NPR that it costs $50,000 to repave a mile of decently maintained road as opposed to $1 million to reconstruct that same stretch.

The Route Ahead

The ASCE feels that by 2020, without improvement, deteriorating infrastructure will cost our economy more than $800 billion. That includes deteriorating road and bridge conditions that alone will cost our economy $58 billion per year, and the resulting highway congestion that will cost us more than a quarter billion dollars.

President Trump has vowed to modernize the nation’s lagging infrastructure with “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” $1.5 trillion to be exact. The majority of those funds are expected from private financing for public works projects. The president has also proposed a 25-cent increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. Congress remains uncertain over federal funding and no action is expected by lawmakers until next year.

Is the end near? In the words of the ASCE, “Our nation’s infrastructure challenges remain significant but solvable. Through strategic, sustained investment, bold leadership, thoughtful planning, and careful preparation for the needs of the future, America’s infrastructure will be improved and restored.”