Apr 24, 2024 - News

Arkansas bridge conditions top U.S. average

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

Almost 95% of Arkansas' 12,808 bridges are in good or fair condition.

Why it matters: America's bridge infrastructure — long seen as dysfunctional — has been steadily improving for the last 20 years, Axios' Will Chase reports.

  • The number of bridges rated poor — or an equivalent metric — by the federal government's bridge inventory has fallen from 15% in 2000 to 6.8% in 2023.

Driving the news: The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) recently launched a transportation performance dashboard, a quick-reference tool for bridge, interstate and highway conditions.

Zoom in: Sixteen bridges in Benton County and 31 in Washington County are in poor condition, according to ArDOT's interactive map.

  • Carroll (3), Madison (23), Crawford (19) and Sebastian (20) counties, which make up the broader NWA region, all rank above Washington County overall.
  • Statewide, 697 bridges are ranked as poor.
Data: National Bridge Inventory; Map: Will Chase/Axios

The big picture: In 2023, the U.S. recorded 42,000 bridges in poor condition.

  • The Department of Transportation estimates it would cost more than $276 billion to repair all of them.
  • But, if the focus is on only the most neglected bridges — those in poor condition for more than five years — the cost of repairs falls to $4.6 billion.

How it works: A bridge being in poor condition does not mean it is at risk of imminent collapse. The National Bridge Inventory has three grades below poor that indicate structural issues may require bridge closures.

  • Few bridges are rated in "serious" or "critical" condition. Spans that reach those levels are typically fixed or closed.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Zoom out: More than 1,200 bridges across the U.S. have been rated in poor condition for more than five years, according to the federal government's national inventory.

  • Over half of those 1,200 bridges have been rated "poor" for more than 10 years.
  • The longer a bridge sits in poor condition without repairs, the more it risks falling into serious or critical condition, where collapse becomes a risk.

The bottom line: The bipartisan infrastructure law, signed in 2021, sets aside $40 billion to further repair and rebuild the nation's bridges.

  • That investment, however, will take years to go from ink to concrete.
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