CHICAGO – A new report released today by Transportation for America shows that Illinois has a large and growing backlog of bridge maintenance. “The Fix We’re In For: The State of Illinois’ Bridges” finds that drivers in Illinois regularly cross heavily traveled bridges and overpasses that have received “poor” ratings from the government, meaning they are at risk of endangering drivers or being closed if repairs are not made.
The report shows one of every 12 bridges in Illinois is likely to be deteriorating to some degree, and 8.5 percent of bridges statewide are rated “structurally deficient.” As bridges in Illinois continue to age, this figure will only grow: More than 60 percent of all bridges will be past their useful life in 2030.
Nationally, some 70,000 bridges are classified as “structurally deficient,” according to the Federal Highway Administration, and transportation agencies would need $70.9 billion to bring currently deteriorated bridges to a state of good repair. Without significant federal support, the poor condition of bridges across the country has major implications for safety, mobility and economic activity.
At a 50-year-old overpass near the intersection of Western and Belmont avenues in Chicago, members of the Transportation for America Illinois coalition shared the report’s findings and called on federal decision makers to invest in “fix it first” transportation projects.
“It is no secret that times are tough, but to keep drivers safe, support the economy, and protect the billions of dollars in investments we’ve already made in Illinois’ infrastructure, we need the federal government to prioritize much-needed safety and structural upgrades,” said Peter Skosey, vice president, Metropolitan Planning Council. “Deferring maintenance on bridges and highways can end up costing state and local governments three times as much as if they had made preventative repairs.”
Illinois’ average bridge is 42 years old. Regardless of the amount of “wear and tear” on a specific bridge, most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years. Today, more than 185,000 highway bridges nationwide (of an approximate total of 600,000) are 50 years old or older. Without substantial bridge replacement, that number will double by 2030 and potentially triple by 2050.
Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of our bridges to be of national significance. However, current federal transportation funding policies encourage new building over maintenance. For instance, transportation agencies are permitted to – and regularly do – transfer money from maintenance to build new roads, even when they are behind on upkeep.
“Maintenance keeps drivers safe, creates jobs, and maintains the backbone of our economy – the transportation network people and businesses rely on every day,” said Gideon Blustein, executive director, Infrastructure Council, Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “Repair work on roads and bridges generates 16 percent more jobs than new bridge and road construction. That alone should tell the federal government we need to reward states that prioritize fix-it-first projects.”
Without improved federal transportation funding and policies, Illinois bridges will continue to display the effects of wear and age. In 49 of 102 Illinois counties, the average bridge condition is worse than the statewide average. Without a change in federal support, Illinois will need $222 from each driver to fix all of the structurally deficient bridges.
“Preserving Illinois’ existing transportation system is crucial to ensuring regional prosperity, safety and a higher quality of life,” said James Corless, director, Transportation for America. “The economic and social cost of neglect is simply too high. It is time for our policymakers to shore up our infrastructure and ensure Americans get the most bang for our transportation buck.”
Transportation for America (T4 America) is the largest, most diverse coalition working on transportation reform today. Our nation’s transportation network is based on a policy that has not been significantly updated since the 1950’s. We believe it is time for a bold new vision — transportation that guarantees our freedom to move however we choose and leads to a stronger economy, greater energy security, cleaner environment and healthier America for all of us. We’re calling for more responsible investment of our federal tax dollars to create a safer, cleaner, smarter transportation system that works for everyone. www.t4america.org.