Taxpayers face a whopping $12.2 billion bill to fix thousands of substandard state bridges — including hundreds deemed "structurally deficient" according to a new report — a shocking revelation that comes amid news federal highway repair dollars could soon slow to a trickle.
"It's a huge number obviously, but it's indicative of the condition of the bridges," said Tony Puntin, executive director of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers and a practicing engineer. "As much as we take for granted our roadway network, it is the lifeblood of the economy. We as a society have not kept up with the maintenance."
Massachusetts has 487 "structurally deficient" bridges rated in poor condition or worse, according to a new report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association that draws on the latest information amassed by state and federal agencies. MassDOT officials told the Herald nearly 40 of those bridges across the state have been closed because of structural issues.
The new report also shows the state has 2,207 bridges classified as "functionally obsolete" — 43 percent of the state's total, the highest percentage in the nation — because they don't meet design standards, which can include overly narrow roadways or lack of sidewalks. The worst include the Mass Pike bridge westbound over North Beacon Street in Brighton, Route 128 over the Charles River on the Newton-Weston town line, as well as a number of highway bridges over railroad tracks around the state. All of them carry more than 100,000 vehicles a day.
"With the design life being 40 to 50 years, it's coming to the end of that. I can see that being a big concern with the amount of truck traffic they have," Puntin said. "There needs to be repairs to deficient bridges and the longer you wait the more expensive it is. If a bridge isn't repaired and it goes too long and is deemed unsafe — whether it's large or small — then it has to be shut down."
MassDOT officials say they have repaired one major deteriorating Pike bridge over Brooks Street in Brighton, but several overpasses in Brighton and Newton won't be repaired for at least two or three years.
The state doesn't have the money to immediately fix or replace all 4,652 bridges that are listed in various states of deterioration or flawed designed, among the state's total 5,136 bridges.
Meanwhile, U.S. transportation officials warn they could be forced to slow the flow of federal dollars to Massachusetts and other states for highway and bridge projects by this summer, unless Congress comes up with a solution. The Highway Trust Fund, which funds state road and bridge construction, has become depleted because the federal gas tax — 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel — has stayed the same since the 1990s, while cars have become more fuel efficient and construction costs have skyrocketed.
"While we will take every step possible to continue to fully reimburse your State for as long as possible, these measures will effectively require us to delay reimbursements that are owed to your agency and the transit agencies in your State," wrote U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx in a letter dated Wednesday to state transportation directors.
MassDOT officials said toll revenue and state funding also support roadway and bridge projects but acknowledge the Highway Trust Fund crisis could have a huge impact.
"This situation could affect about 50 percent of our program by causing it to stop," said MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes. "We would also stop advertising federally funded projects."
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