Closure of Ohio River Bridge Highlights Need for Robust Investment in Infrastructure

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels made a prudent decision to close the 49-year-old Sherman Minton bridge over the Ohio River between Louisville, Ky. and New Albany, Ind. last Friday after cracks were found in support girders, highlighting once more the pressing need for strong federal investments in fixing our country's infrastructure.

"This incident is powerful evidence that our country's infrastructure needs cross both party lines and state lines," said T4 America director James Corless. "Thousands of bridges, just like this one, are nearing the end of their designed lifespans and can become structurally deficient at any time, resulting in millions of dollars in repair costs that can quickly sap a state's budget. Considering the average U.S. bridge is 42 years of age and designed for a 50-year lifespan, stories like this will become more common without aggressive investment in infrastructure and prioritizing repair."

State officials in Kentucky and Indiana are investigating whether they need to replace the bridge, which would cost upwards of $500 million, according to one estimate, which pales in comparison to what each state spends on bridge repair and maintenance each year overall. Indiana spent only $47 million and Kentucky $136 million on bridge repair in 2008.

"President Obama's American Jobs Act is exactly the kind of infusion of federal money that's needed in Kentucky, Indiana and states all across the country facing similar needs and backlogs of deficient bridges. If passed, Kentucky could see $418 million and Indiana could see $650 million in flexible federal transportation dollars to spend on critical needs just like this bridge, which carries as many as 80,000 cars per day. There's a clear need for the federal government to step up with funding to address these sorts of needs — especially bridges like this that carry a critical interstate highway through a region and connect two states across a river."

"States also need to be held accountable to address the growing backlog of structurally deficient bridges with their federal transportation dollars," Corless added. "States can currently spend half of their money dedicated to bridge repair on almost any other type of project. Today the federal program lacks a system to ensure that federal money goes to repair the worst bridges or address the backlog before new highways are built. For example, though Kentucky received $390 million in stimulus dollars and 10 percent of its bridges are structurally deficient, they only spent 26 percent of the stimulus on maintaining their current system, the fourth worst ratio in the country in a study from Smart Growth America."

"One logical step forward would be Senator Ben Cardin's Preservation and Renewal of Federal-Aid Highways Act, which would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish "state of good repair" standards for highways that receive federal funding, ensuring that federal dollars are targeted toward the most pressing needs first and holding states accountable for improving the condition of their systems."

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