Transportation Bill Should Prioritize Infrastructure Repair

While we look with wonder as the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge rises, replacing the seismically unsafe span, the majority of Bay Area roads and bridges are in disrepair. According to a recent report by Transportation For America, our region has the second highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges of any major metropolitan area in the county. These deficient bridges carry over 15 million vehicles per day – more people than anywhere other than Los Angeles and New York City. The reasons to prioritize maintenance and repair are many.

First and foremost, our transportation infrastructure is critical to public safety. Aging roads and bridges hold an ever-increasing risk of sudden failure, particularly in earthquake-prone areas like the Bay Area. The costs of failure are great in terms of lives and dollars. The collapse of the Cypress Freeway during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake accounted for two-thirds of all deaths associated with the quake. And the economic burden of shutting down the Bay Bridge for emergency repairs alone amounted to $4-6 million per day. We simply can not afford another tragedy of this magnitude.

Functioning roads and bridges are also critical to maintaining a robust economy. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the many elevated structures that traverse our steep hills, commuters, tourists, and freight carriers alike depend on our infrastructure to reach their destinations safely and on time. Failure to keep people and goods moving freely and efficiently throughout the region will slow productivity and hamper economic recovery and growth.

The time to repair our region’s aging transportation infrastructure is now. The average age of a bridge in California is nearly 45 years, with most bridges built to last 50 years. Every year, our bridges grow older and the cost of needed repairs grows higher. The longer we wait, the more we will have to pay for repairs.

Investment in our infrastructure will deliver needed jobs to the construction industry, which continues to suffer from high unemployment as a result of the economic climate. An unprecedented 30 percent of tradesmen and women are currently out of work. Bridge and road repair present an opportunity to create thousands of jobs while restoring safety for our region.

Our local agencies are doing everything in their power to repair infrastructure with the resources available. But these resources are not sufficient. As of 2009, the Federal Highway Administration estimated it would cost $70.9 billion to repair the nation’s bridges. In that year, Congress only allocated $5.2 billion to bridge repair – and since then the funding gulf has only widened.

Congress is now considering two federal transportation bills which will dramatically shape our region’s transportation future. The House version of the bill (HR7) would strip resources away from key Bay Area infrastructure projects and mass transit. The Senate version (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21) would provide strong policies and increased funding for road repairs and other transportation improvements in the region.

The Bay Area should not have the second-highest backlog of bridge repairs in the nation. Congress should act quickly to prioritize infrastructure maintenance and pass a transportation bill that will ensure public safety and a robust economy for generations to come.