Millions of motorists cross bridges daily, and every driver assumes that these bridges are safe. That safety, however, comes at an extremely high price – high enough to have prohibited hundreds of bridge maintenance projects over the past decade. With new funding, bridges throughout the country now are receiving attention that is long overdue.
More than 42 percent of the U.S.’ 617,000 bridges are 50 years old … or older. Even more noteworthy is the fact that 46,154 of America’s bridges are considered structurally deficient. Data tells us that 178 million trips are taken across these structurally deficient bridges every day. That risk can be mitigated now that infrastructure funding is available.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is set to launch numerous projects to repair and rehabilitate bridges in the state. The department has plans to spend $972 million — nearly a quarter of its budget — on bridge upgrades. The overall plan includes many individual bridge projects, but one that will begin soon is a $12.6 million rehabilitation project on the Spaulding Turnpike. Another $37.1 million project will address maintenance on the bridges that carry motorists over the Merrimack River.
Several long-term initiatives are underway in Rhode Island to rehabilitate the state’s bridges and to reverse its reputation for having the highest percentage of functionally obsolete bridges among all U.S. states. Funding is now being sought for the 56 percent of bridges in the state that have been identified as structurally deficient. High priority projects include a $40 million phase of improvements to the Henderson Bridge and its adjacent roadway network. In addition to repair work, the bridge connecting the municipalities of Providence and East Providence will result in other projects related to traffic calming measures and shared-use pathways.
The state of Ohio announced that it will invest $113 million in local bridge projects through each for the next five years. The funding will support a $121 million replacement of the State Route 8 Bridge that runs over the Cuyahoga River Valley in Akron. Along with widening the roadway and adding auxiliary lanes in each direction, the project also will include reconstruction of two ramps at an adjacent interchange.
Ohio’s Department of Transportation also will proceed with development work on its $47.3 million preferred alternative for replacing a bridge along State Route 14. The span, known as Whitehouse Crossing Bridge, enables travel over the Garfield Park Reservation.
In Pennsylvania, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is spearheading several large bridge projects in support of regional transportation systems. The SEPTA capital program includes upcoming bridge-oriented projects that include the rehabilitation of the seven Mainline-Schuylkill bridges as well as repairs to the Bridgeport Viaduct. Design work is underway for the $45 million rehabilitation of the Mainline-Schuylkill bridges. A project to repair and rehabilitate the Bridgeport Viaduct allows SEPTA to continue operating its Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) route over the Schuylkill River, but a $35 million plan to repair the viaduct, which dates back to 1911, is expected to enter a two-year construction phase in the near future.
Large scale bridge projects also are at the center of regional transit planning in the state of Massachusetts. Over the next four years, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will invest heavily in capital projects such as a $574 million replacement of its North Station Draw 1 Bridge and the adjoining control tower. The bridge forms a critical route across the Charles River for the regional transit system. The MBTA also is overseeing a $20 million project to replace the Saugus Drawbridge, which constitutes a portion of its Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line. That project will include a widened approach embankment, a new control house, signal upgrades, and relocation of submerged utilities. Another project worthy of mention will rehabilitate the Longfellow Approach viaduct and the bridge. This $210 million project also will upgrade power supply, communication, and signaling along MBTA’s Red Line.
In the state of Kentucky, a bridge upgrade that includes repairs to the Kentucky River Bridge is being planned. The project is slated for advanced design work followed by a construction period that will last throughout much of 2024. Officials anticipate that the project will cost a total of $12.3 million.
A plan to construct a new bridge between Milton, New Hampshire, and Lebanon, Maine, will connect the two communities. The proposed bridge will restore a link across state borders which was demolished over a decade ago because of safety concerns. Since then, communities on both sides of the border have suffered from the negative impact. Final design work will be completed and then the project will advance to the construction stage. The project represents a 50/50 partnership between the two state governments.
These projects represent examples of what can be expected in every state over the next few years. America’s critical bridge infrastructure will be repaired, motorists will be safer, and the country’s bridge infrastructure will be upgraded to last for additional decades. While protecting valuable public assets and providing safety for motorists, the work also will launch an abundance of contracting opportunities for private-sector companies.
Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.