$39 Billion Needed to Repair or Replace Region's Aging Highways and Bridges

Jul 14, 2014

The cost of repairs needed to keep the region's aging highways and bridges in a state of good repair over the next 25 years could top $39 billion, and area transportation agencies are counting on federal funding to cover nearly half that cost.

Transportation Planning Board officials reported the figures in a briefing to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors on July 9. The briefing to the body of local elected officials was one in a series this year focusing on the condition of the region's infrastructure. Other topics in the series have or will include energy, health, public safety communications, stormwater and wastewater, and drinking water security.

According to TPB officials, a number of Interstate highways, major and minor arterial highways, and bridge structures in the region are reaching the end of their intended lifespan and will need major repair, rehabilitation, or full replacement in coming years.

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Monika & Tim / Flickr

In the briefing, officials reported that about a quarter of the nearly 10,000 lane-miles of highway in the region have pavement conditions that have been rated "unacceptable" according to standard engineering definitions, meaning that they will soon need repair. About 5% of the region's 3,300 bridges -- 176 in all -- have been rated "structurally deficient," meaning that some portion of the bridge deck or the structures supporting it are experiencing advanced deterioration and are in need of significant repair. Nationally, about 11% of bridges are considered to be structurally deficient.

The regional figures do not capture the condition of approximately 25,000 additional lane-miles of local, non-highway roads and streets in the region. Officials from the Virginia, Maryland, and District of Columbia departments of transportation were on hand July 9 to provide details about the condition of those facilities.

Following the briefings, the COG Board approved a letter to send to the region's Congressional representatives urging immediate action to replenish the federal Highway Trust Fund, from which nearly all federal aid for road and transit projects flows. In April, federal officials warned that the fund would become insolvent as early as the end of July of this year and that payments to states for maintenance and construction projects already underway would be slowed or halted altogether.

In its letter, the COG Board pointed out that approximately $2 billion in federal funding has already been programmed to be spent on hundreds of improvements in the Washington region this year, and that many of the projects address critical safety needs. "Insolvency will put agencies in the impossible position of deciding which projects to keep funding and which to halt," it warned.

The COG Board's letter joins one sent by the TPB in May also urging Congress to address transportation funding needs. In addition to replenishment of the Highway Trust Fund, both letters called for securing more sustainable, long-term funding sources to prevent future threats of insolvency and to support greater investment in transportation infrastructure over time.

"If the region is to maintain its current transportation system and make the needed capacity investments for the future to meet population and economic growth, significant additional transportation funding is needed," the COG Board said.

MAP-21, the current federal transportation authorization which expires on September 30 of this year, kept funding levels for transportation essentially unchanged compared to previous years despite rising needs brought on by population growth and economic expansion. Officials estimate that about $17 billion more per year is needed nationally just to maintain the level of funding included in MAP-21, and that more would be required to keep pace with rising needs.

In their letters, both the COG Board and the TPB cited the historic steps Virginia and Maryland took in 2013 to raise new revenue for transportation by raising taxes and user fees, and they called on Congress to do the same. "Now it's time for the federal government to do its part," they said.

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