Apr 17, 2024 - News

Most Tennessee bridges are "fair" or "good"

Share of bridges in poor condition, 2023
Data: Federal Highway Administration; Map: Will Chase and Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Although the bridge collapse in Baltimore last month was due to a series of unlikely accidents rather than crumbling infrastructure, the incident has renewed focus on the vulnerability of bridges across the U.S.

The big picture: The U.S. Department of Transportation considers 6.8% of the over 600,000 bridges it tracks and rates to be in "poor" condition.

  • That doesn't sound too bad on a percentage basis, but it's over 40,000 bridges total.
  • The trend nationwide is nonetheless headed in a positive direction, with the percentage of bridges in poor condition cut in half since 2000.

State of play: 42% of Tennessee's 20,373 bridges are "good" and 53% are "fair," per the 2023 ratings. Just 4% are "poor."

  • That amounts to 898 bridges statewide considered to be in poor condition.

Zoom in: The most traveled of the poor bridges is the I-24 bridge over Mill Creek in the Antioch area, which sees 155,629 daily crossings, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

  • Other high-traffic bridges designated as "poor" include an Interstate 40 bridge near Murfreesboro Pike and another I-40 bridge nearby over Mill Creek.

What they're saying: The Tennessee Department of Transportation, which inspects bridges every two years, reports a significant focus on bridge quality over the course of decades.

  • For instance, the agency notes, about 20% of Tennessee bridges were deemed structurally deficient in 1992. That number had fallen below 5% by 2018. (The agency now uses the classifications good, fair and poor.)

A TDOT spokesperson said that "poor" bridges are still safe, but part of the bridge may need attention.

  • "Our bridge assets are designed for a minimum service life of 75 years," spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds said.
  • "We use a wide variety of tools and processes to achieve this goal including preservation, minor maintenance, repairs, and ultimately replacement to best utilize our limited financial resources."

What to watch: The federal infrastructure law passed in 2021 sets aside $40 billion to further repair and rebuild the nation's bridges, but that will take years to go from ink to concrete.

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