FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 7, 2011
SCHUMER: NEW REPORT REVEALS NY HAS OVER 2,000 DEFICIENT BRIDGES ACROSS THE STATE & THE TOTAL WILL GO UP DRAMATICALLY AFTER IRENE; WITHOUT PASSAGE OF TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION BILL, NY’S AGING BRIDGES COULD BECOME UNSAFE
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his push to quickly pass a transportation extension bill to keep money flowing to help repair structurally deficient bridges throughout Upstate New York. Coming on the heels of tropical storm Irene, which further weakened or washed out bridges from the Hudson Valley through the North Country, and previous flooding in Western New York and the Southern Tier, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a National Bridge Inventory showing that New York is home to over 2,108 structurally deficient bridges. On September 30th, federal funding for surface highway construction projects will expire unless Congress passes legislation to authorize continued funding for key infrastructure projects. Based on U.S. Department of Transportation data, New York stands to lose $3,275,497,930, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk if Congress fails to extend the highway and transit bill. On the call, Schumer discussed the urgent need to pass an extension without controversial amendments designed to stall the bill, and bring funds to New York in order to help keep the states’ ailing bridges from slipping into even greater disrepair, preserve existing jobs, and create additional construction jobs in the process.
On the call, Schumer pointed to the severe damage that Hurricane Irene inflicted on bridges and highways in New York, along with other Northeast states, to further highlight the need for Congress to first pass a clean extension of the expiring highway program and then enact a long-term surface transportation bill that would help states and local government plan for repairs and improvements to bridges, highways and railroads. The strength of the nation’s rural economy relies greatly on the quality of its transportation system, especially roadways and bridges, which provide a connection between rural regions and larger towns and cities. The economy of rural areas of New York rides on the quality and connectivity of the rural transportation system, and it is clear that many elements of that system, like bridges, face significant challenges. In New York, these include a high number of structurally deficient bridges, bridges approaching the end of their designed lives, narrow passageways, and more.
The Federal Highway Administration released a National Bridge Inventory showing that New York is home to 2,108 structurally deficient bridges. According to the Federal Highway Administration, bridges are considered “structurally deficient,” if significant load carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition due to deterioration and/or damage, the bridge has inadequate load capacity, or repeated bridge flooding causes traffic delays. The fact that a bridge is "structurally deficient" does not imply that it is unsafe or likely to collapse. On September 30th, federal funding for surface highway construction projects will expire, unless Congress passes legislation to authorize continued funding for key infrastructure projects. Based on U.S. Department of Transportation data, New York stands to lose $3,275,497,930 and 53,227 jobs in a shutdown of federal highway and transit programs if Congress fails to extend the highway bill.
According to the FHWA, New York received $1,741,860,538 in Fiscal Year 2011 specifically for federal highway projects. The Surface Transportation program contains the Highway Bridge program, which is a specific set of funds for bridge project. Most highway funding is reserved for six major programs, including the Highway Bridge program, which are usually referred to as the core programs. The Highway Bridge Program is a formula program (apportioned to the states on an annual basis using formulas found in SAFETEA) and the program received $4,858,830,112 in total for FY11. New York State received $477,231,760 in FY11 of that total pot, and then distributed the funding to various projects across the state.
Schumer noted that New York bridges’ deficiencies could pose a risk for local economies, commuters, and business travelers throughout the state if allowed to fall into further disrepair. In New York 14% of rural bridges were rated as deficient, according to a report released by TRIP, a widely supported transportation advocacy group. This totals 2,108 structurally deficient bridges in New York that have significant deterioration, including problems with the bridge deck, supports or other major components. These structural flaws pose many problems for those in these rural regions, including limits to the weight of trucks, fire engines, ambulances and other large vehicles that can use them. In addition to these structurally deficient bridges, another 1,285 rural bridges around the state are rated "functionally obsolete," meaning they no longer meet current design standards for the width of lanes, road alignment, clearances or other requirements.
The Federal Highway Administration has classified 2,108 bridges across New York as structurally deficient. Here is how the numbers break down across the state:
· In the Capital Region, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 293 bridges as structurally deficient
· In Western New York, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 195 bridges as structurally deficient
· In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 214 bridges as structurally deficient
· In the Southern Tier, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 354 bridges as structurally deficient
· In Central New York, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 280 bridges as structurally deficient
· In the Hudson Valley, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 305 bridges as structurally deficient
· In the North Country, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 287 bridges as structurally deficient
· In New York City, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 159 bridges as structurally deficient
· On Long Island, the Federal Highway Administration has classified 21 bridges as structurally deficient
Schumer also pointed out that while the full extent of the damage from Hurricane Irene is still being assessed, local and county officials report that bridges were completely destroyed or became deficient as a result of Hurricane Irene. For instance, Hurricane Irene slammed Ulster County by every measure, with three bridges in Shandaken damaged badly enough to require replacement and one bridge, known as the Cold Brook Bridge, completely washed away. In addition, Ulster County experienced a total of 86 road closings across the county because of flooding, fallen power lines and toppled trees. Schumer noted that this is only one of far too many instances of bridges being washed out and damaged by Irene throughout New York.
Schumer noted that bridges damaged during Hurricane Irene are eligible for repair or replacement under FEMA’s Public Assistance program, unless they are a federal aid road. Eligible work includes repairs to decking, guardrails, girders, pavement, abutments, piers, slope protection, and approaches. Only repairs of disaster-related damage are eligible. In some cases, FEMA may use pre-disaster bridge inspection reports to determine if damage to a bridge was present before the disaster. To apply for this type of repair, local governments should work with State and FEMA, put together a project worksheet describing the damages and the costs, and then submit to FEMA for approval.
Allowing roads and bridges to slip into disrepair ultimately costs state and local governments billions more than the cost of regular, timely repair. Over a 25-year period, deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly burdens taxpayers. Preservation efforts can also extend the expected service life of a road for an additional 18 years, preventing the need for major reconstruction or replacement. Schumer noted that it is imperative that New York work now to extend the useful service life of roads and bridges before major rehabilitation or replacement is required, and highlighted the urgent need to pass the surface highway transportation bill set to expire September 30th that would bring funds to New York’s ailing bridges.
TRIP’s report noted that the health of rural economies and the quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas, is based largely on the production and transportation of energy, food and fiber. This is highly reliant on the quality of the nation’s transportation system, which provides the first and last link in the supply chain from farm to market. Also, the report noted that traffic fatalities on the nation’s rural roads occur at a rate more than three times higher than all other roads. Schumer noted that in 2009 in New York, the number of rural non-interstate traffic deaths was 11th highest in the nation, with 524 fatalities. This is often due to inadequate safety design, longer emergency vehicle response times, and higher speeds traveled on these rural roads.
Schumer continued, “The best way to boost our economy, support private-sector growth and cut unemployment is to invest in infrastructure projects that will get goods moving again, improve our rural roads and make driving even safer, and I will fight tooth and nail to ensure that Congress passes legislation to authorize continued funding for such critical infrastructure projects in New York.”