The Rural Bridge Deficit
Transportation for America/Daily Yonder
Nearly two-thirds of the nation's substandard bridges can be found in rural America.
Federal inspections have found that just over 11% of the nation's highway bridges are "structurally deficit," according to Transportation for America, a group promoting transportation projects. That percentage is about the same in rural, urban and exurban counties.
But although most people live in urban and exurban counties — about 80 percent of the U.S. population — nearly two out of every three bridges can be found in rural communities. Some 69,000 bridges are structurally deficient, according to federal engineers — more than 43,600 of those are in rural counties.
(To see Transportation for America's full bridge report, go here.)
Transportation for America/Daily Yonder Rural counties vary tremendously in the degree of their bridge repair backlog. The map above shows the percentage of bridges deemed "structurally deficient" by federal engineers in every rural county.
Dark blue counties have the highest percentage of bridges deemed to be deficient by the Federal Highway Administration. Yellow counties have rates of disrepair far below the national average. Click on the map to see a larger version.
Nuckolls County, Nebraska, has the highest percentage of bridges needing repair in rural America, with 120 of its 194 bridges (61.9%) deemed "structurally deficient" by highway engineers. Nuckolls County is in south Nebraska, along the Kansas border.
Greer County, Oklahoma, has the most bridges in need of major repair. In far southwestern Oklahoma, Greer County has 260 bridges found to be deficient by the Federal Highway Administration.
Here are the 50 rural counties with the highest percentage of bridges that need major repair.
Engineers inspect a bridge's superstructure (the "bridgey" part), its deck (where vehicles travel) and the substructure (where the bridge is connects with the ground). If any of these parts of the bridge need significant repair, the Federal Highway Administration lists the bridge as "structurally deficient."
Bridges are expected to last 50 years. The average age of an American bridge is 42 years. Nearly 200,000 bridges are 50 years or older.
States own about 280,000 bridges. Local governments own just over 302,000 bridges. The rest are owned by other entities, such as private businesses or federal agencies.
Some states have done a better job than others in maintaining their bridges. Pennsylvania leads other states with the highest percentage — 26.5% — of its rural bridges needing repair. Just over 22% percent of Iowa's bridges are deficient, followed by Oklahoma (22%), South Dakota (20%), Nebraska (18.7%), Missouri (17.5%) and New Hampshire (17%).
Florida does the best job of maintaining its rural bridges, with only 2.3% of its structures needing major repair. Delaware, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah all have less than 5% of their bridges judged to be "structurally deficient."
The backlog of needed repairs is growing, and the Federal Highway Administration estimates it would take $70.9 billion to bring all the bridges up to standard. Federal spending on bridge repair, however, is running at just about $5 billion a year.