The High Cost of Aging Bridges: Pay for It Now or Pay for It Later

BridgeNothing lasts forever…and that’s especially true for a national infrastructure that is now in its sixth decade. And fleets are paying the price.

The arteries that run through the body of the U.S., our bridges and roads, are like the arteries that run through our own bodies. They, like we, are aging. And as anyone who notices the ravages of time can attest, things that get old tend to break down. That’s why it’s important to remember that most of the U.S. interstate highway system was built in the 50’s and 60’s. That’s over half a century ago. And since road and bridge repairs are often only made after damage has occurred, it’s no wonder that, according to the Spring 2013 report of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), our infrastructure did not receive welcome grades. Our roads…a D. Our bridges fare better with a C+. Not great news for commuters and even worse news for fleets.

In many areas of the country, highway congestion is horrendous. This can cost fleets dearly. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), an estimated $27 billion worth of fuel was wasted by trucks in 2011 due solely to traffic jams. Now add to that the time spent on rerouting due to highway and bridge repairs, and you can see the cost to business is enormous.  With the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) estimate that trucking’s share of freight movement will increase over the next decade, the matter becomes even more worrisome.

So what could be the cost when it comes to bridges? Even though bridges overall received a C+ rating from the ASCE, some states fare far worse. Pennsylvania has the dubious honor of being #1 in the nation with nearly 25% of its bridges ranked as structurally deficient! This has led to reduced weight limits being imposed for traffic on more than 1,000 bridges. According to an October 15, 2013 article on SupplyChainDigest.com, one of those restricted bridges impacted a tile maker, Armstrong Industries, in Marietta, PA. This will cause them to take a 25-mile detour when carrying fully-loaded truck, costing the company more than an additional $300,000 annually in freight spend. The article also quotes a small trucking firm owner who estimates that retouring will add 10% to the cost of a haul from Pittsburgh to Boston.

So why is it taking so long to fix these problems? Simply put, nobody likes to see an increase in taxes. But many groups, including the ATA, are calling for a hike in fuel taxes for road and bridge improvements. However, even if the federal government imposes additional fuel taxes, most roads and bridges are “owned” and managed at state levels. That impacts when, where, and how repairs are made, or even if they’re made at all.

When repairs are made, it’s true that congestion gets worse, but there’s an end in sight. To go back to the body analogy at the beginning of this post, if you go to the doctor when you first feel a health issue, your cure rate and time are much better and much shorter than if you wait until you’re really sick. Our nation’s highways and bridges have waited a long time for their check-up, and we are all going to pay the price.

Image source: Wikipedia

David Beaudry

About David Beaudry

David Beaudry is Director of Logistics Engineering and Consulting for NationaLease. He brings 25 years experience in surface transportation, logistics engineering, and consulting. His earlier career includes management posts with Ryder System Inc. and National Freight. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Central Connecticut State.

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