ALBANY—While the state and local governments have made strides in repairing or replacing structurally deficient or dangerous bridges, the current condition of bridges owned by local governments in New York State will cost $27.4 billion to fix, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The cost of repair of New York City’s bridges (not state owned) makes up nearly three quarters of the aforementioned repair estimate or $20.4 billion. The New York City region has by far the largest number of functionally obsolete and structurally deficient bridges.
The State Comptroller, who recently released a report on the growing deficit New York State taxpayers suffer from in terms of the return on federal taxes, states that the number of “structurally deficient” bridges in New York State has declined in recent years. However, local governments are being squeezed by the high cost of bridge repair at a time when the federal government is considering changes to how it funds infrastructure needs.
The total cost of needed repairs to all 17,462 highway bridges in the state was estimated at $75.4 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory.
“Local communities are facing a big price tag for maintaining and repairing bridges,” DiNapoli said. “These structures are aging and the cost for repairs will likely only increase over time. Many local governments understand the importance of long-term planning for their infrastructure needs but they will need help.”
He adds, “While the state has taken steps to make funds for repairs available, the assistance of the federal government has also been critical. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but these infrastructure needs must be addressed.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as part of his state budget and overall $100-billion infrastructure plan, is pursuing a $2.5-billion plan to upgrade the state’s water and sewer infrastructure and is spending considerable capital on the state’s roads and bridge network, including the construction of a new Kosciusko and Tappan Zee Bridge (new Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) spans that will cost the state and federal governments a total of approximately $873 million and $3.9-billion respectively.
Local governments, mostly counties, own 8,834 out of 17,462 bridges in the state. These bridges carry average daily traffic of nearly 33.4 million vehicles. DiNapoli’s report found that 12.8% of local bridges are structurally deficient as compared to 9% of state-owned bridges. The state defines structurally deficient bridges as spans that remain open and are considered safe to drive on, but either have load-bearing elements in poor condition or are prone to repeated flooding.
The overall percentage of structurally deficient local bridges declined from 16.7% in 2002 to 12.8% in 2016, while the state’s percentage remained relatively flat at approximately 9% during that period.
The highest number of structurally deficient local bridges are located in New York City (86), followed by the counties of Erie (52), Ulster (46) and Steuben (40). The counties with the highest percentage of structurally deficient local bridges are Seneca (34.6%), Cayuga (27.6%) and Hamilton (23.8%).
Regionally, New York City has the highest proportion of functionally obsolete bridges (75.9%), followed by Long Island (40.6%) and the Mid-Hudson Valley (26.9%). Functionally obsolete bridges are not structurally unsound, but fail to meet current design standards for the amount of traffic carried. Those structures may have inadequate lane or shoulder widths, low clearances or low load-carrying capacity, the State Comptroller’s office explains.
New York Building Congress President and CEO Carlo A. Scissura says of the bridge report, “The New York Building Congress applauds State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for highlighting the tremendous challenges inherent in improving New York City’s aging and space-constrained bridges to meet modern design standards and increasing traffic flows. The New York State Department of Transportation must make the modernization and expansion of its vast network of bridges a main priority in its next five-year capital plan.”