Trucks and highways are probably two of the most iconic emblems of American economic strength and of the power of our free enterprise system. There are likely few roadways in the United States that don’t see a truck of some type and size making a delivery somewhere.
In fact, a recent article from the United States Census Bureau noted that,
“According to the CFS [Commodity Flow Survey] , trucks transported 71.6% or $10.4 trillion of the $14.5 trillion of the value of all goods shipped in the United States in 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available.”
Railways accounted for just $250 million in goods shipped that year, in comparison.
The article went on to note that,
“Truck shipments that originated in Texas and California led the nation in the value of goods shipped. Both states shipped over $1 trillion of goods in 2017. Texas also led the nation in the total weight of truck shipments, transporting nearly 1.3 billion tons of goods in 2017. California was second with 580.6 million tons.”
Weather can wreak havoc on many activities and transportation is one of them.
A large stretch of I-80 traversing the state of Wyoming, known locally as the “Snow Chi Minh Trail,” routinely closes due to winter weather. Some in the state are proposing a new route for that section of I-80 could save the nation a million dollars a day in lost trade due to delays in trucking.
All Roads Lead to Bridges
For those whose jobs entail bridge work such as inspections, maintenance, and repair, the numbers are likely familiar.
According to the Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), there are more than 617,000 bridges across the United States. Currently, 42 percent of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and more than 46,000 or almost 8 percent of the nation’s bridges are considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in “poor” condition.
In addition, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) notes that,
“ARTBA finds that while the number of structurally deficient (SD) bridges declined 2.5 percent last year to 45,000, the number of bridges falling into fair condition grew more than 3,600 to almost 295,000. … Of the 45,000 SD bridges, nearly 11,200 are in “serious” or worse condition.”
A large part of the problem, according to many state DOTs and engineers, is the chronic lack of funding needed to perform the necessary maintenance, repairs, and – in some instances – bridge replacements throughout the country.
With the recent passage of the federal infrastructure bill, however, this promises to change.
The Need for Funding and Repair Work Underscored In Dramatic Fashion
We recently covered the unfortunate and potentially tragic event involving the damage on the Hernando de Soto Bridge over the Mississippi last spring. The bridge was shut down for months while the repairs were completed and the costs of the closure included an estimated $7 million to $9 million.
In addition, it was also estimated that the closure cost the trucking industry $2.4 million each day.
More recently, a far more unfortunate and tragic – yet ironically fitting – incident occurred in January 2022.
President Biden was scheduled to speak in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to promote the more than one trillion dollar infrastructure bill on January 28. That same day, a near-by fifty-year old bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh. The bridge had been rated as poor on a recent inspection report, according to state officials.
that both underscored the need for infrastructure funding, but also the very real potential for tragic disaster among America’s aging bridges.
According to a local news story the next day,
“Hours before President Biden was to visit Pittsburgh on Friday to tout his infrastructure plan, a bridge with a troubled inspection history collapsed, injuring 10 people and stranding seven vehicles, including a Port Authority bus, on the wrecked structure that spans a ravine in Frick Park.
Three people were rushed to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and a fourth person – one of two passengers on the bus — was taken to a hospital about two hours later, local officials said.
‘We were fortunate,’ Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said, that no one was killed.”
Also, in a cautionary footnote, government transportation officials pointed out that the collapse of the bridge did not necessarily mean that the thousands of other U.S. bridges with the same “poor” designation were due for imminent collapse.
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