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West Virginia’s Bridges, Worst in Nation, to Receive $506.7M

The state will receive millions in federal aid over the next five years to invest in its bridges, 21.2 percent of which have been deemed structurally deficient, more than 14 percent higher than the national average.

(TNS) — West Virginia has a bridge problem.

The Mountain State has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country. Now it's getting one of the highest shares of federal funding nationwide to fix a landscape of bridges in dire need of repair.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that West Virginia will receive more than $500 million to upgrade its bridges, part of a $26.5 billion investment in states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over five years enabled by the bipartisan infrastructure law passed by Congress in November.

The Biden administration announced Friday that West Virginia would receive $506.7 million over the next five years to fix its bridges, starting with $101.3 million for fiscal year 2022.

That money is poised to come in handy in West Virginia, whose 21.2 percent clip of structurally deficient bridges was highest nationwide according to an American Road & Transportation Builders Association analysis of federal data.

Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said in a statement Friday the funding would allow states to modernize bridges in greatest need of repair and strengthen them to withstand the effects of climate change.

"Every state has bridges in poor condition and in need of repair, including bridges with weight restrictions that may force lengthy detours for travelers, school buses, first responders or trucks carrying freight," Pollack noted.

West Virginia had 1,545 bridges in poor condition, according to data based on the 2020 National Bridge Inventory. Only three states — Pennsylvania, Illinois and Louisiana — had more.

The infrastructure legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden in November includes an incentive for states to direct the new Bridge Formula Program funds to off-system bridges owned by a county, city, town or other local agency.

While states typically must match federal funding with up to 20 percent in state or local funding, federal guidance issued Friday notes that federal funds may be used for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating locally owned off-system bridges.

More than 95 percent of West Virginia's 7,291 bridges are maintained by the state Division of Highways, according to a 2020 infrastructure report card from the West Virginia section of the American Society of Civil Engineers,m which gave the state a D+ grade for bridges.

Of those nearly 7,300 bridges, 21 percent were structurally insufficient, far higher than the national average of 7 percent. A bridge is deemed structurally deficient if there is substantial deterioration of its deck, supports or other major components.

West Virginia's bridge problem has been getting worse.

The state's number of structurally deficient bridges rose from 1,222 in 2016 to 1,545 in 2020, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation infrastructure investment advocacy group.

The share of bridges in poor condition has been growing faster in West Virginia than in other states, according to TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based national transportation research nonprofit.

West Virginia went from having the 12th-highest share of structurally deficient bridges in the nation in 2014 (13 percent) to the second-highest share as of 2020, according to TRIP analyses of federal data.

Of Charleston's 556 total bridges, 75 (13 percent) were structurally deficient, as of 2020. Of Huntington's 622 bridges, 106 (17 percent) were structurally deficient.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R- W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R- W.Va., voted for the bipartisan infrastructure law allowing for the $506 million in federal bridge investments in West Virginia.

All three hailed the Department of Transportation's announcement Friday, saying it will provide long-term certainty for completing projects and safer bridges.

Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller, both R- W.Va., voted against the infrastructure legislation, which authorized $550 billion in new spending over five years on roads and bridges, water systems, broadband, the electric grid, rail, ports, airports and public transit.

Mooney said the legislation was "full of liberal priorities" and the price tag "far exceeds anything reasonable" upon the House's passage of the bill in November.

Miller derided the bill as a "pathway to socialism."

In their statements, Mooney and Miller objected to the bill adding to the national debt. The bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit, according to a finding from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a federal agency that provides independent analyses of budgetary issues.

But the White House has argued that the legislation will help reduce inflation and strengthen supply chains by providing overdue reinforcement for the country's waterports, airports, rails and roads, creating union jobs and growing the economy.

McKinley was one of 13 Republicans who joined 215 Democrats to advance the bill, which the Senate approved in a 69-30 vote in August, to Biden to sign into law.

All five members of West Virginia's congressional delegation have opposed the Democrat-proposed 10-year, $1.75 trillion social safety and climate spending package that proponents say would complement last year's infrastructure law by bolstering the steel, cement and aluminum industries through grants, tax credits and loans.

(c)2022 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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