With the current federal transportation funding plan scheduled to expire July 1, speakers at the International Bridge Conference in Pittsburgh on Monday declared a crisis situation in the maintenance and repair of the nation's dilapidated bridges.
"If ever there was a crisis, it is now," said Kirk Steudle, President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). He said Congress should pass a new transportation funding bill this year, rather than continually relying on extensions of the "SAFETEA-LU" funding formula.
Steudle said it's become a challenge just to maintain the nation's bridges, many of which were built 40 to 70 years ago.
"Construction and rehabilitation costs have escalated dramatically in the past ten years," said Steudle. "Meanwhile, our primary funding mechanism, the federal gas tax, has not been increased since 1993, and states, such as my home state of Michigan, are facing severe budget shortfalls."
The AASHTO President was just one of many speakers to call for a federal transportation funding overhaul.
Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said another SAFETEA-LU extension would be the tenth "Band-Aid" in the law's history. Mendez said he supports transportation legislation by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK), a rare bipartisan bill introduced last week. However, he said transportation funding historically hasn't been a partisan issue.
"People have been able to come from both parties, and come up, and actually develop a solution that works pretty well, or has worked pretty well in the past," said Mendez. "This year, however, things are a little more intense, and maybe quite a bit more partisan, so we'll see what's going to happen there."
The country's bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate, according to Construction Risk Management CEO Timothy Galarnyk. He said the U.S. experienced thirty bridge collapses between 1980 and 2009, but bridges are collapsing more often in recent years.
"In the 29 months from January 1, 2010 until June 1, 2012, there were 22 bridge collapses or failures in this country," said Galarnyk. "That's one bridge collapse or failure every 1.3 months."
Galarnyk called for the federal government to invest an additional $250 billion per year into transportation infrastructure.
The International Bridge Conference has been held in Pittsburgh for the past 29 years and continues through Wednesday.