A truck that was carrying an oversized load crashed into a four-lane Interstate 5 freeway bridge in Washington State Thursday evening is suspected of being the primary cause of a bridge over the Skagit River collapsing and dumping two vehicles into the water. All three occupants of the vehicles were successfully rescued with only minor injuries.
The collapse of the Interstate 5 Bridge will surely be brought up in any state and federal government discussion about improving America’s infrastructure. The bridge that collapsed was not even the worst of bridges in the United States, with numerous other bridges being in worse shape then that one.
Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson told reporters that the bridge that collapsed had not been listed as "structurally deficient" by the Department of Transportation in 2011. Instead it was classified as "functionally obsolete."
"Structurally deficient" is the worst classification a bridge can receive and still operate. The National Bridge Inventory cites a bridge the scores a 4 or lower on its nine-point scale at the level. A 4 means that a bridge meets the minimum tolerance limits required of it. Functionally obsolete however has several meanings, such as lack of safety shoulder or an inability to handle current traffic volume and weight.
The bridge that collapsed had a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100 according to the Federal government. Although this is below the statewide average of 80, there are 759 bridges in the state with a lower sufficiency score the collapsed bridge. This is out of 7,840 bridges total or slightly less then a one in ten chance of driving over one if a bridge is selected at random in Washington State.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Washington State’s infrastructure a grade of C- with regards to bridges. According to their report, 366 bridges, 4.7%, are considered structurally deficient while 1,693 bridges, 21.6%, are considered functionally obsolete. The state’s overall infrastructure grade was a C.
For the United States bridges overall it fared slightly better the Washington, with a C+ grade. One in nine American bridges are rated as structurally deficient, the worst grade a bridge can have before it is closed and the average age of America’s bridges is currently 42 years. But the overall of American infrastructure grade was a D+.
The amount spent on infrastructure has plummeted in recent years. As a percentage of GDP we are at the lowest levels of spending in over 20 years.
According the ASCE,
“The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States."
President Obama has repeatedly called for infrastructure repair and revamp, five times in the past five years, but only got some funding once in 2009 off the heels of the 2008 wave election. Congressional Republicans have not made the state of the nation’s infrastructure a priority after taking control of the House in 2010.
The Washington State legislature is considering an $8.4 billion transpiration funding package that is backed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) along with Democratic legislators. But although the collapse of the bridge collapse was dramatic it is unlikely to reignite a larger debate in the halls of Congress as deficit focused Republicans gear up for a fight over the debt ceiling however. But it remains to be seen if Congress will react to the state of the nation road and bridges.