But there is a bigger number: $140 billion, what the association says it would cost to repair every deficient or obsolete bridge in the nation.
Structural deficiency doesn’t mean a bridge is on the verge of collapse, but it is like a car that has gone 500,000 miles — the need for repair is constant and evermore expensive.
When a bridge structure weakens, weight restrictions can put it off limits to truck traffic, emergency vehicles and even school buses. Rerouting traffic causes delays and congestion, burns more gasoline and ultimately bumps up the cost of everything that arrives in the market or mall over the roadways.
As America’s insatiable desire for stuff has grown, truck travel nearly doubled over 20 years and is projected to double again by 2035. Obsolete bridges have become choke points, delaying trucks’ passage.
The cost of those delays is well known to trucking companies, but collectively it amounts to another multibillion-dollar figure that seems almost abstract to average consumers.
Unless, of course, they ponder why gas costs more at a downtown station than it does elsewhere or why doorstep package delivery costs more in congested areas. There are many reasons why the cost of living is higher in Washington than it is in lots of other places. One of them is that many trucking companies price their shipments into congested areas by Zip codes, because time is money and their trucks get stuck in traffic, too.
The wake-up call
The span in the deadliest bridge collapse in modern U.S. history was neither terribly old nor exceptionally decrepit, but more than five years later it haunts every state and federal official responsible for maintaining a bridge.
Thirteen people died and 145 were injured in 2007 when an eight-lane interstate highway bridge carrying Minneapolis evening rush-hour traffic collapsed into the Mississippi River.
The bridge repeatedly had been labeled structurally deficient by inspectors who cited significant corrosion and cracking on cross girders. But investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the bridge had been flawed from its beginning in the 1960s. Gusset plates used to join its steel beams weren’t muscular enough to bear the weight. That shortcoming had been exacerbated later when two inches of concrete added to the road surface increased the bridge weight by 20 percent.