The bridges that carry tired, worn down Americans are themselves tired and worn down. A new report by the AP shows that of the 607,380 bridges included in the National Bridge Inventory, 65,605 were deemed "structurally deficient," 20,808 are "fracture critical," and 7,795 bridges fit under both categories, including the Brooklyn Bridge, which has repairs scheduled into 2014.
A bridge is considered "structurally deficient" if one of its three parts (the deck, the superstructure, and the substructure) is rated a 4 or less out of a possible 9 points. "Fracture critical" means that the bridge is in danger of collapse if a single component fails.
And yet, the AP's report makes it seem as if bridge lingo is steeped in hyperbole. It's like calling your fridge "climate control-deficient" if the freezer door needs to be closed extra hard. Engineers, the Thrifty Dads of America, contend that while the bridge situation certainly looks dire, it's probably fine and go bother your mother.
Engineers say the bridges are safe. And despite the ominous sounding classifications, officials say that even bridges that are structurally deficient or fracture critical are not about to collapse.
Still, the AP's report echoes what reports from Transportation for America [PDF] have been saying for years: the country's bridges are old and in need of repair. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US a D+ rating with regard to infrastructure; bridges were rated a C+.
In order to properly address our shaky dams and muddy drinking water and quivering bridges, the ASCE estimated that we need to invest (or "spend," depending on your political persuasion) $3.6 trillion by the year 2020. Yet the 2009 stimulus stipulated just $1.6 trillion in spending.
Should Congress have spent more on the stimulus? Probably. But then how would the Republicans get re-elected?