May 6, 2010

DOT report: Condition of U.S. highways, bridges has improved in last decade

Report's findings run counter to conventional wisdom that U.S. infrastructure is systemically falling apart.

By Mark B. Solomon

A recent report by the Department of Transportation (DOT) has concluded that the condition of the nation's interstate highways and bridges has improved during the past decade, a finding that runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the U.S. infrastructure is systemically falling apart.

The report, which was devoted to laying out a roadmap for the DOT's strategic initiatives through fiscal 2015, found that the percentage of vehicle miles traveled on interstate roads having what DOT called "good ride quality" increased to 57 percent in 2009 from 46 percent in 2000.

In addition, DOT, citing data from the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the percentage of bridges classified as "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete" declined to 29.4 percent in 2009 from 30.9 percent in 2002. DOT found that most of the progress was made in fixing "structurally deficient" bridges that are in need of significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. The findings also covered bridges not part of the interstate system; most of the nation's bridges are considered "short span" and do not connect the interstate network.

The DOT report cautioned, however, that increasing freight volumes moving by truck would continue to put stress on the nation's roads. "Without adequate investment in the road network or diversion of freight to rail or water transport alternatives, there may be adverse consequences in safety and efficiency should road conditions worsen in the future," the report said. DOT officials have begun an aggressive campaign to convince shippers to consider water and intermodal as alternatives to over-the-road trucking.

The agency also warned that "significant challenges remain in addressing bridge deficiencies," saying that current levels of federal, state, and local funding are "insufficient" to sustain the long-term condition of the bridge network. "If combined investment in the coming years is sustained at 2006 levels ... the backlog of potential cost-beneficial bridge improvements is projected to increase 13.9 percent by 2026," the report said.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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