Bridges owned by New York’s local governments need an estimated $27.4 billion in repairs, according to a report released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
While the cost for repairs is staggering, DiNapoli’s report found the number of "structurally deficient" locally-owned bridges has declined in recent years. But concerns about how local governments will find funding for repairs is growing as Washington considers changes to infrastructure aid.
"Local communities are facing a big price tag for maintaining and repairing bridges,” DiNapoli said. "These structures are aging and the cost for repairs will likely only increase over time. Many local governments understand the importance of long-term planning for their infrastructure needs but they will need help. While the state has taken steps to make funds for repairs available, the assistance of the federal government has also been critical. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but these infrastructure needs must be addressed."
Local governments, mostly counties, own 8,834 out of 17,462 bridges in the state. These bridges carry average daily traffic of nearly 33.4 million vehicles. DiNapoli’s report found local bridges are more likely to be structurally deficient than state-owned bridges (12.8 percent to 9 percent). “Structurally deficient” bridges that remain open are considered safe to drive on, but either have load-bearing elements in poor condition or are prone to repeated flooding.
The overall percentage of structurally deficient local bridges declined from 16.7 percent to 12.8 percent from 2002 to 2016, while the state’s percentage was relatively flat at around 9 percent.
Town-owned bridges are more likely to be structurally deficient (18.4 percent) than other local bridges. The highest number of structurally deficient local bridges are located in New York City (86), followed by the counties of Erie (52), Ulster (46) and Steuben (40). The counties with the highest percentage of structurally deficient local bridges are Seneca (34.6 percent), Cayuga (27.6 percent) and Hamilton (23.8 percent).
Regionally, New York City has the highest proportion of functionally obsolete bridges (75.9 percent), followed by Long Island (40.6 percent) and the Mid-Hudson Valley (26.9 percent). “Functionally obsolete” bridges, though not structurally unsound, fail to meet current design standards for the amount of traffic carried. Those structures may have inadequate lane or shoulder widths, low clearances or low load-carrying capacity. DiNapoli’s report notes the challenge of improving older infrastructure in developed areas, which have limited space to expand bridge structures to handle increased traffic flows or meet current design standards.
The total cost of needed repairs to all 17,462 highway bridges in the state was estimated at $75.4 billion in 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory. For local bridges, those in New York City have the highest estimated costs at $20.4 billion, nearly three-quarters of the $27.4 billion estimated for all local bridges.
Municipalities are generally responsible for the costs of their locally owned bridges. However, they generally receive assistance from the state and federal government. Excluding assistance to address severe winter weather damage, funding levels for traditional state aid programs (Marchiselli Aid and CHIPs) have remained flat in recent years. In 2016, the state created the BRIDGE NY program to support local bridges and culverts. As of January 2017, the state Department of Transportation had awarded $200.4 million to fund 132 local bridge and culvert projects statewide.
The federal government also provides aid for local bridge projects, primarily through Federal Highway Administration programs. These grants generally can fund up to 80 percent of eligible costs with the state or local government coming up with the remainder. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides grants for damage caused by natural disasters or emergencies, including repairs to damaged bridges.
An interactive online tool with county-level data on New York’s bridges is available at: http://wwe1.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/bridges/bridges.cfm
For access to state and local government spending, public authority financial data and information on 140,000 state contracts, visit Open Book New York. The easy-to-use website was created by DiNapoli to promote transparency in government and provide taxpayers with better access to financial data.