May 6, 2024 - News

What to know about the safety of Virginia's bridges

Map of U.S. states showing the share of bridges in poor condition in 2023. Overall, 6.8% of bridges are in poor condition. West Virginia and Iowa have the highest share among states, with nearly 20% in poor condition. Arizona has the lowest, with just 1.1%.
Data: Federal Highway Administration; Map: Will Chase and Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Drivers cross Virginia bridges in "poor" or worse condition more than 2.2 million times a day, according to a report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

Why it matters: Baltimore's fatal bridge collapse has put a renewed focus on the vulnerability of bridges across the U.S.

The big picture: The Department of Transportation considers 3.5% ā€” or 498
ā€” of Virginia's 14,000-plus bridges to be poor, a rate that's better than 39 other states.

  • Nationwide, 6.8% of bridges are in poor shape. West Virginia has the highest rate at nearly 20% of its bridges.
  • A third of our bridges are in good condition. About 63% are fair.

Zoom in: At least 52 of Virginia's bridges have been in "poor" condition for more than 10 years, per an Axios analysis of National Bridge Inventory data.

  • Of those, 14 are in the Richmond area. Eight of the 14 were built before the 1930s, our analysis found.
  • And nearly half of Virginia bridges are nearing the 50-year mark when they'll need repairs or replacement, according to a September report from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit.

Yes, but: A bridge being in poor condition doesn't mean it's unsafe or about to collapse, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

  • If a bridge is considered in poor condition, it's inspected each year and put on a priority list for repair or replacement, according to the Times-Dispatch.

Plus: Fewer Virginia bridges are needing repairs now (6,346) than in 2019 (6,455).

  • Nationwide, 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.

What's next: Virginia will receive nearly $600 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years that can go toward making needed bridge repairs, according to the association's report.

Go deeper: Biden wants federal funds to rebuild Baltimore bridge.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note that Virginia's share of bridges in poor condition is better than that of 39 other states (not better than all but those states).


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