America’s bridges are in rough shape. Of the nearly 620,000 bridges over roads, rivers and other waterways across the U.S., more than 43,500 of them, about 7%, are considered “structurally deficient.”
In Alaska, bridges face a unique and growing set of problems as the planet warms.
Permafrost, the frozen ground beneath large parts of the state, is thawing with the changing climate, and that’s shifting the soil and everything on it. Bridges are also increasingly crucial for rural residents who can no longer trust the stability of the rivers’ ice in spring and fall.
The infrastructure bill making its way through Congress currently includes US$40 billion in new federal funds for bridge construction, maintenance and repairs – the largest investment in bridges since construction of the interstate highway system started in the 1950s. In that funding is about $225 million to address 140 structurally deficient bridges throughout Alaska.
Given the high cost to build and maintain bridges in rural Alaska, and the increasing risk to their structures as the climate warms, we believe the bill is a good start but hardly sufficient for a growing rural problem.
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