SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – With nearly 100,000 cars crossing the I-20 bridge over the Red River in Shreveport, the daily traffic is constant.
Hour after hour, the same scenario is playing out on the pavement of other area bridges as vehicles bear down and according to a recent report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, it’s taking a toll on Louisiana bridges.
“We don’t want to be at the top of a ranking that says our infrastructure is falling apart,” said Louisiana Dept. of Transportation Public Information Officer Erin Buchanan. “But we’ve got to be realistic and serious about where we stand right now.”
Where we stand, according to the report, is with 13-percent of the state’s bridges being deemed ‘structurally deficient.’ That’s the seventh-worst percentage in the country.
“It’s absolutely not a quick fix,” said Buchanan. “And it wasn’t a quick transition to get here.”
According to the ARTBA, ‘structurally deficient’ means the bridge needs repairs but is not unsafe for public travel. The report claims the state has identified needed repairs on nearly 3,400 bridges. The cost is staggering.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars and a backlog,” said Buchanan. “Right now we’re looking at an over $13 billion backlog. Probably closer to $14 billion.”
It’s a problem resonating at the highest levels.
In February, during his most recent State of the Union address, President Donald Trump urged Congress to come together and address America’s infrastructure needs saying, “both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
The President urged lawmakers to put together a large-scale infrastructure package addressing bridges and roads.
I-20 over St. Louis Railroad and Jimmy Davis are two of the most heavily traveled ‘structurally deficient’ bridges in northwest Louisiana. They stand in Congressman Mike Johnson’s district.
Johnson says he’s constantly advocating for federal dollars to repair infrastructure, but he doesn’t see the President’s hopes happening this year.
“Unfortunately, it may not be politically possible to reach an agreement on how to fund [the infrastructure package] before the 2020 election cycle is concluded,” said Johnson.
Getting a look at the underside of the aging structures allows you to get a good understanding of the uphill battle that Louisiana DOTD is facing. Chipped concrete and rusting metal can be seen in many areas. Louisiana DOTD knows of the problems, they just don’t have the money to fix them.
“We’re missing out on federal dollars if we can’t come up with the state match,” said Buchanan. “So even to get 80-percent federal funding we’ve got to be able to put up 20-percent. And in some cases, while 20-percent may seem small, we’re not even able to do that.”
So until a large scale commitment is made at the state and federal level Louisiana DOTD will continue the process of inspection and repair.
But that process, according to the report, has resulted in diminishing returns as Louisiana is one of 14 states where the number of structurally deficient bridges has increased over the past five years.
Which could result in a problem that can’t be kicked down the road any further.
“This has been many years of a lack of real meaningful investment in our transportation infrastructure system,” said Buchanan.