Why America's Bridges Are Still Bad

It’s been three years since a busy bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing 13 people and sparking widespread calls to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. But so far little has improved, according to congressional testimony by the Federal Highway Administration this month. In Minnesota the number of “structurally deficient” bridges—featuring, for instance, corroding steel supports—actually rose from 1,156 in 2007 to 1,206 last year. And an analysis of FHWA data shows a similar uptick in 18 other states, leaving the U.S. with about 71,000 substandard bridges—virtually the same number as in 2007.

The problem, of course, is a shortage of cash. The FHWA says it will take about $100 billion to bring every bridge up to par. But last year’s $787 billion stimulus package earmarked just $3.1 billion for the work. A deficient rating doesn’t mean a bridge will collapse tomorrow. But as Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz told Congress, “It’s only a matter of time.”