According to the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database, which was released this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Louisiana has 1,827 structurally deficient bridges and 1,963 functionally obsolete bridges.
Within Morehouse Parish, there are 149 total bridges, and 36 of those are structurally deficient while 15 are functionally obsolete.
According to a April 2014 Louisiana Legislative Auditor report on the La. Department of Transportation and Development, the funding for repairing and maintaining aging infrastructure within the state comes from both Transportation Trust Funds and the Federal Highway Trust Fund. A lack of adequate funding has created a large backlog of projects that need to be tackled.
“DOTD estimates that Louisiana has a backlog of 2.7 billion in bridge maintenance and construction projects primarily consisting of structurally deficient bridges,” the Bridge Inspection Program report states. “Because of the limited funding available to address all of the bridges in the backlog, DOTD has been unable to significantly reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges.”
The report also states that 2013 La. DOTD expenditures totaled $184.4 million. The federal government provided $137.9 million and the state $46.5.
Currently, the potential for a decrease in federal funding during the 2015 fiscal year, which begins October 1, exists.
According to Dr. Alison Premo Black, the chief economist for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the problem could escalate as states face a slowdown in reimbursements for already approved federal-aid highway projects in August. There will also be no Highway Trust Fund support for any new road, bridge, or public transportation projects in any state during FY 2015.
"Letting the Highway Trust Fund investment dry up would have a devastating impact on bridge repairs," Black said in an April 24 press release, noting the trust fund supports an average $254.6 million annually in Louisiana bridge work. "It would set back bridge improvements for years."
"The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials," Black says. "The state transportation department can't just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away. It takes committed investment by our legislators. Members of Congress need to come to grips with that. Some of our most heavily travelled bridges were built in the 1930s. Most are more than 40-years-old."
While the public waits for Congress to act, the La. DOTD cautions that the bridges citizens are driving on remain safe for use.
“We continue to inspect bridges around the state to make sure that they are safe for the public’s use,” Susan Stafford, public information officer for the La. DOTD, said, “Bridges are inspected at a minimum of once every two years. If crews notice a significant condition change during an inspection, the frequency of inspections is increased; load limits posted and/or bridges are closed as appropriate. If a bridge is deemed unsafe during an inspection, DOTD will close it until it can be repaired or replaced.”
According to the DOTD, the term "structurally deficient" is used to identify structures that could qualify for rehabilitation or replacement because of structural related repair needs while "functionally obsolete" is used to identify structures that could qualify for rehabilitation or replacement because the design is outdated.