The 2009 federal highway and transit authorization bill provides the best opportunity in more than 50 years to chart a new course for America’s surface transportation programs and significantly boost the highway and bridge construction market for the future. But, it will be a heavy political lift to get the job done and it will require strong grassroots support from transportation design and construction professionals.
Those were among the key messages American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane delivered to 1,500 bridge owners and engineers, senior policy makers, government officials, bridge designers, construction executives and suppliers attending the 25th Annual International Bridge Conference, held June 2 to 4 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The United States has nearly 576,000 bridges. Approximately 22 percent are located in the National Highway System (NHS) and 55,245 are on the Interstate System.
Ruane cited research from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) calling for 10,000 mi. of new routes or corridors and upgrading 20,000 mi. of the NHS. If this goal is achieved, it could mean at least 10,000 new or replacement bridges on the NHS.
“These projections are not pipe dreams,” he said.
Spurred in part by the tragic collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis last August, Ruane said states such as Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are launching major bridge repair/replacement programs. Others are expected to follow.
With the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reporting more than 25 percent of the nation’s bridges to be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, the trend toward greater investment should continue, the ARTBA CEO said. He cautioned, however, that a nearly 40 percent increase in highway and bridge construction costs since 2003 was making bridge improvements much more expensive, and would require additional federal, state and local funding. Building support among policy makers at all levels of government will be challenging in the current political atmosphere, but can be done, Ruane noted.
He outlined the two major thrusts of ARTBA’s legislative proposals for the 2009 bill, which include expanded investments in the core highway, bridge and transit programs — financed by a minimum 10-cents per gal. increase in and indexing of the federal motor fuels tax — to protect past infrastructure investments, particularly on the Interstate system.
The second part of ARTBA’s plan calls for initiation of a 25-year national construction priority — the “Critical Commerce Corridors” (3C) goods movement program — to add new infrastructure capacity to the nation’s transportation network. It would include eliminating the more than 200 freight bottlenecks identified by the U.S. DOT by upgrading the existing NHS and building new multimodal infrastructure capacity, including bridges.
“America’s bridge designers and builders are renowned for spanning the impossible,” Ruane said. “Their personal involvement is crucial to helping ARTBA achieve its legislative goals and growing the bridge market for the future.”