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Arizona drivers cross fewer troubled bridges than residents in most states, thanks to a “fix it-first” commitment to ensuring that existing roads and bridges are maintained before new ones are built, a new analysis of federal data shows. In a ranking of bridges from worst to best, Arizona ranks 48th, meaning it has the best-maintained bridges of all but three other states.
However, the state cannot become complacent, warn the authors of “The Fix We’re In: The State of Arizona’s Bridges,” a new report from Transportation for America. As they are in every other state, a large share of bridges in Arizona are rapidly reaching the end of their design life at a time when revenues are shrinking and costs for repair and replacement continue to grow. Nationally, transportation agencies would need $70.9 billion to overcome the current backlog of “structurally deficient” bridges, according to the Federal Highways Administration. Without significant federal support, the poor condition of bridges across the country has major implications for safety, mobility and economic activity.
“It is no secret that times are tough, but the safest and most economically viable approach we can take to Arizona’s infrastructure is to protect the investments we’ve made with sound safety and structural upgrades,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). “Allowing roads and bridges to slip into disrepair ultimately will cost the State of Arizona and our local governments much more than the cost of regular, timely repair. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly burdens taxpayers.”
Most bridges are designed to last roughly 50 years; Arizona’s average bridge age is 38.4 years old and 230 bridges in the state are more than 50 years old. Without substantial bridge replacement in Arizona, the number of “structurally deficient” bridges likely will increase over time, as a wave of old bridges reach the end of their designed lives. The report also notes that deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs.
“Arizona’s Department of Transportation has done a good job of keeping Arizona’s bridges safe, but our state, like so many others, is cash-strapped and needs greater federal support,” said Unrein. “Congress has repeatedly declared the condition and safety of our bridges to be of national significance. The current federal program should be revamped to ensure that state transportation agencies have enough money to get the job done. The federal government should reward states like Arizona by tying those investments to fix-it-first programs.”
While Arizona ranks well nationally, bridges continue to display the effects of wear and age, suffering the results of underinvestment. Three percent of Arizona’s bridges are structurally deficient. Without a change in federal support, Arizona will need $72 from each driver to fix all of the structurally deficient bridges.
“Preserving Arizona’s existing transportation system is crucial to ensuring regional prosperity, safety and a higher quality of life,” said James Corless, Director of Transportation for America. “The economic and social cost of neglect is simply too high. It is time for our policymakers to shore up our infrastructure and ensure Americans get the most bang for our transportation buck.”
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