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Making bridges safer with digital bridge inspection software – part 1 of 2

June 13, 2022

The day that President Biden arrived in Pittsburgh to give a speech on the Infrastructure Bill – a recently-approved $1 trillion investment in the country’s failing infrastructure – a bridge collapsed just outside the city center. Nobody was killed, but many were injured, and the irony of the timing is striking. The need for making bridges safer is arguably the most visible, serious, and long-standing infrastructure issue targeted by the Infrastructure Bill. Even beyond the tragic loss of life or property damage, a bridge disaster has a chilling effect because of their ubiquity of use, where 178 million trips are taken across structurally deficient bridges every day.

Sadly, bridge disasters are not uncommon, but many of the country’s bridges are in such an advanced state of deterioration that it is both an unprecedented and worrying concern, especially when you consider that 42% of the United States’ 617,000 bridges are at least 50 years old. The alarming situation worsens due to the extensive backlog of bridge inspections. This backlog traps jurisdictions in a harmful cycle. They strive to catch up with limited resources as everything crumbles around them.

The Infrastructure Bill allocates funds for bridge inspection and repair, offering a rare chance to address the problem. Recent technological advancements have led to the emergence of bridge inspection software, streamlining the process. This software can reduce backlogs and make bridges safer. And with the advancement of technology, new technology solutions in the form of bridge inspection software have recently emerged that can help streamline the inspection process, reduce backlogs, and help in making bridges safer.

Read on to learn more about the push to make bridges safer. We’ll explore  the scope of the bridge safety crisis, the causes of the inspection backlogs, and the untapped potential for bridge inspection software to help turn the tide.

A concreate bridge with serious structural deterioration - Making bridges safer with digital bridge inspection software

The scope of the problem

The scope of the bridge safety crisis can be quickly mapped out with a series of disturbing statistics compiled by two of the most respected infrastructure players in the country when it comes to road, building and bridge safety: the American Road and Transporters Builders Association (ARTBA) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). These non-partisan and not-for-profit organizations continually collect data on the current state of infrastructure in the United States.

  • 36 percent of U.S. bridges – nearly 224,000 spans – need repair (ARTBA)
  • Around 1 in 8 of all the bridges in the country need to be replaced (ARTBA)
  • 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation’s bridges, are structurally deficient (ASCE)
  • 2,094 bridges are in “Critical” or “Imminent Failure” condition (ARTBA)
  • The estimated cost of needed repairs is $260 billion (ARTBA)
  • The worst offender, 20% of West Virginia’s bridges are considered structurally deficient, followed by Iowa at 19%, for a total of 1490 and 4504 bridges respectively (ARTBA)

These figures paint a grim picture of the current state of bridge safety, which begs the question: how did it get this bad?

‍Causes of the crisis: backlogs and delays

Nearly 90% of the structurally deficient bridges in 2021 were also rated deficient in 2020. This fact highlights that the inspection backlog significantly contributes to the poor state of bridge infrastructure. It also acts as a factor that accelerates the infrastructure’s decline. Moreover, the slow pace of inspections worsens the situation. As inspectors address the backlog, more bridges continue to deteriorate. Consequently, the backlog continues to expand.

Unfortunately, recent labor issues are worsening this trend, as both a massive skilled labor shortage and a pandemic that sidelined employees are destabilizing the construction industry. Private companies and government bodies are urgently addressing the growing backlog of required inspections. However, with labor shortages becoming increasingly common, bridge inspections are likely to fall further behind. This struggle to keep up with inspections affects both private and public sectors. As the shortage of labor persists, the delay in bridge inspections continues to grow. And as the backlog increases, so do serious bridge safety hazards which, if gone unchecked, will run the risk of disaster-level events.

Another recurring challenge driving the issue is that, even when bridges are inspected, there are still outstanding delays in starting and completing critical repairs. In fact, at the current pace, bridge repairs could easily take more than a half-century. There are a host of reasons why bridge repairs are being delayed even once they are deemed necessary, including:


Cash-strapped governments don’t have the funding for repair work; in fact, the major impetus behind the Infrastructure Bill is to triage infrastructure problems and provide monies to those deemed most urgent.


Ongoing jurisdictional disputes about whose responsibility it is to fix a particular bridge impede the repair process. State, local, and federal bodies – all facing budget constraints – ping-pong the responsibility back and forth while the bridge continues to deteriorate.


Many jurisdictions face long inspection backlogs and an overwhelming number of bridges requiring attention. They often struggle to determine where to begin. Even when municipalities focus on a particularly dangerous bridge, they may be uncertain about what to do with it – it’s always a question of whether to repair, replace, or remove altogether.


Unable to grasp this breadth, governments often lose track of all their inspection activities. Various agencies and stakeholders house data from previous inspections, often siloing it or rendering it lost or unavailable. Different sources have collected this information over the years. They have used various methods for this collection. Due to these differences, sharing accurate information is challenging. This issue affects entities responsible for inspections and repairs.

Interested in reading more, including how digital bridge inspection software can help bridge the gap from risk to safety? Check out the full guide here!