On March 26, 2024, the United States received a wake up call when a transportation cargo vessel struck the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore, Maryland. The swift collapse of the bridge following the vessel’s impact sparked renewed national conversation of the necessity for investment in the country’s infrastructure with special emphasis on bridge deficiencies. Since the early 2000s, conversations of the need for infrastructure investment have come and gone across Washington. However, lawmakers had yet to pass into law consistent legislation securing the funds needed to alleviate these concerns. 

As of 2024, U.S. citizens and visitors enjoy access to more than 617,000 bridges nationwide. Access to bridges for transportation is a vital resource of the U.S. economy, raising economic value by approximately $11 trillion USD annually – or an equivalent of 10.8 percent of U.S. GDP. However, prior to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by the Biden Administration in 2022, the federal government has historically neglected infrastructure needs for decades.

As a result, nearly 42 percent of all U.S. bridges are at least 50 years old, and 15 percent of bridges are between 40 and 49 years old. These statistics are alarming considering that according to the American Society for Civil Engineers, the lifespan of bridges is only up to 50 years. As a consequence of historic neglect for infrastructure needs, 7.5 percent of all U.S. bridges are considered “structurally deficient.” Another 13.6 percent of bridges are considered “functionally obsolete” and cannot meet current traffic demands. A real danger to the public is prevalent from the lack of repairs as nearly 178 million trips are taken by Americans daily on structurally deficient bridges.  

An additional concern that the federal government needs to address is the rising threats to bridges from extreme weather events. With concerns of intense climate change, the structural deficiencies of bridges are at greater risk of damage. Even seismic activity can send structurally deficient bridges toppling. CNN reports that nearly 21,000 bridges are at risk of toppling during intense storms or other natural phenomena. It is suggested that bridges need to be built with redundancies in order to minimize the potential of toppling. These redundancies would need to be placed around bridges’ danger points. This would be a more quick and cost effective alternative to building entirely new bridges. Although these additions are not always permanent solutions, they do alleviate the risks posed to the public and buys some time for the government to invest in new projects.  

The overwhelming necessity for bridge investment comes after a decades-long backlog of federal funding for projects from the U.S. federal government. The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure estimates that the backlog needed for bridge repairs across the country is $125 billion USD. Further estimates suggest that for all necessary repairs to be made to structurally deficient bridges, annual funding for projects needs to increase by 58 percent. If the federal government were to stay on course with current rates, it could take until 2071 for all the necessary bridge repairs to be made, not taking into account other aging bridges.  

Aside from the dangers posed to the general public, the real threat for the lack of infrastructure funding for bridges is economic. The Council of Foreign Relations estimates that the failure of addressing infrastructure needs could cost the U.S. $10 trillion USD in GDP by 2039. If the lost productivity from catastrophic failures and the threat to human lives were to be assessed, the loss of economic value could range in the billions.

The decades-long delays and resulting rising maintenance costs for infrastructure are holding economic activity back, not to mention compounding due to inflation. It is making the U.S. decreasingly competitive with its economic rivals such as China and the EU. For example, if we compare the allocated investment amounts for the U.S. and other global regions, we can see that this indeed does hold back economic growth. As of 2021, China spent approximately 4.8 percent of its GDP on infrastructure needs. The EU member states each spend approximately 5 percent of their GDP on infrastructure. The U.S. only devotes 2.4 percent of its GDP on these needs. Even low and middle-income countries allocate a greater share of their GDP to infrastructure needs when compared to the U.S. – approximately 3.4 percent to 5 percent of their GDP.

Economists across the board argue that infrastructure investment will provide nothing but a multiplier effect for the U.S. economic market. It is estimated that for every $1 USD invested in infrastructure, $1.50 USD will be earned and added to the GDP. By increasing efficiency and reliability, investment would boost long-term U.S. competitiveness, insulate the domestic economy from shocks, and create jobs 

Even with the $1.2 trillion unlocked by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2022, the decades-long backlog of funding is still not sufficient enough to meet the necessary needs for infrastructure repairs, and many of the dollars from the law will not go directly to hard infrastructure building, maintenance, or repair. Historically, individual state governments were responsible for allocating tax-payer funds for projects. The federal government was not responsible for such projects, even though they have access to the resources necessary to collect and distribute these funds. Now that the federal government is once again involved in infrastructure repairs across the country, there needs to be increased attention by Congress to ensure that state governments are not abusing these resources and using tax-payer dollars for other purposes.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), state transportation agencies are in need of an average $70.9 billion each to overcome the current backlog of bridge deficiencies. The lesson learned is that state governments are not guaranteed to satisfy infrastructure needs on their own or may not allocate funds most efficiently to priority infrastructure projects (based on maintenance and needs). In addition, this issue is not localized or unique to specific regions across the country.

There is no single region in the U.S. better suited to fulfill infrastructure needs than another. Arizona is ranked #1 in the U.S. for bridge quality while Nevada is #2 and Texas is #3. However, according to a recent press release by Arizona Governor Katie Hobbes’ Office, the most recent round of infrastructure investment is a result of $90 billion allocated by the federal government via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Many states attribute their ability to invest in infrastructure to these federal grants, which they often then demand before making future needed improvements.  

Representatives in the U.S. Government has been sounding the alarm on the nation’s infrastructure needs for decades, including bridge deficiencies. With the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in place, the renewed interest in projects is stronger than it has been since the 1950s. Economists predict a strong economic response to such funding that will benefit society all around. Continued neglect could cost the U.S. economy up to $3.9 trillion. The failure of investment in infrastructure projects – by governments and even private partnerships – could carry with it adverse effects that threaten the United States’ economic position in the world. It is incumbent on policymakers not only to follow through with prudent infrastructure investments, but to ensure a consistent and appropriate level of funds and regulatory environment to keep roads and bridges safe.  


Written by Anthony Kelly, Public Policy Intern

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.