For Immediate Release:
July 28, 2008

Print News Release


Julie A. Oaks
TDOT, Public Information Officer
 Office: 615.741.2331
Mobile: 615.533.7105
Fax: 615.741.9093


TDOT Commissioner Outlines State of Tennessee Bridges
National Study Cites Age and Funding as Biggest Challenges to Bridge Programs Across Nation

Nashville, Tenn. – August 1, 2008 marks one year since the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River killing 13 and injuring more than 100.  Today, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely detailed the status of Tennessee’s 19,519 bridges at a press conference on Nashville’s historic Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge.

“Tennessee is fortunate to have one of the best transportation systems in the nation, including a first rate bridge program” said Nicely.  “We have invested more than $1.7 billion in bridges in the last two decades and will continue that commitment into the future.”

As of January 31, 2008, only 2.4% of interstate bridges in Tennessee are deficient, while 4.7% of all state owned bridges are classified as structurally deficient.  That is the 6th lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the nation according to FHWA data submitted to the Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in August 2007.

TDOT dedicated more than $130 million to the replacement and repair of Tennessee’s bridges in FY 2007/2008 and will dedicate another $116.6 million for bridge repair and replacement in FY 2008/2009.

“Tennesseans can rest assured that we are working hard keep Tennessee’s bridges safe,” said TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges.  “Our bridge inspection program is constantly cited as one of the best in the nation and was one of only three in the U.S. to complete all inspections on time in 2007, but we know there is room for improvement.  Following the collapse in Minneapolis we requested a Peer Review study of our program and are in the process of implementing suggestions from that review to further enhance our existing program.”

TDOT is currently in the process of implementing additional training for bridge evaluators, an updated load permitting process to enhance the department’s ability to issue permits, and is contracting with the U.S. Geological Survey to utilize sonar scan technologies to enhance underwater bridge inspections for some bridges.

TDOT is also partnering with the Tennessee Historical Commission and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to implement a new program to save some of Tennessee’s historic bridges.  The goal of the program is to assist communities interested in preserving historic bridge structures for the public road system or pedestrian or other adaptive use.

A report today issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials underscores the safety of U.S. bridges, but finds that one out of every four needs to be modernized or repaired.  AASHTO’s report, Bridging the Gap: Restoring and Rebuilding the Nation’s Bridges, outlines the critical challenges ahead.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Age – Usually built to last 50 years, the average bridge age in this country today is 43, with one in five bridges over 50 years old.  As age and traffic increase, so does the need for repair.
  • The Price Tag – Based upon data from the Federal Highway Administration, the cost to repair or modernize the country’s bridges is $140 billion – assuming all the bridges were fixed immediately. 
  • Traffic Congestion – Many of the nation’s large-scale bridges have become chokepoints on the country’s freeway system, and a drain on the nation’s economy. The top 10 highway interchange bottlenecks cause an average of 1.5 million truck hours of delay each year. 
  • Soaring Construction Costs –The costs of steel, asphalt, concrete and earthwork have risen by at least 50 percent in the past five years, forcing delays of bridge improvements and replacements.  Nearly every state faces funding shortages that prevent them from the kind of on-going preventive maintenance, repair and replacement  needed to keep their bridges sound indefinitely.

“This generation of baby boomer bridges is in need of significant repair or replacement. New technology can help us build bridges that are stronger and longer-lasting,” said Pete Rahn, AASHTO president and director of the Missouri Department of Transportation.  “Yet we are not seeing the kind of national attention we need to address these issues.”
Bridging the Gap also points to several solutions.  Among them:

  • Increased investment in transportation at all levels of government – federal, state and local; 
  • Support for a wide range of revenue options such as tolls, tax increases, annual road user fees, bonds or private investment;
  • Continued commitment to research and innovation;
  • Systematic maintenance to extend the life of bridges; and
  • Increased public awareness that bridges are vital links to business and communities.

AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley said, “Across the nation, state and local transportation agencies are struggling to keep our country’s bridges safe, sound and fit for the future. A new generation of bridges must be built and Bridging the Gap points the way.”

For a full copy of the report or to see a video on its key findings, visit the TDOT website and click on “Bridging the Gap: The state of Tennessee’s bridges” under the “Hot Topics” section.  This link will also provide access to Tennessee’s list of structurally deficient bridges and the most recent bridge inspection and inventory summaries on Tennessee’s 19,519 bridges.