There are about 21,000 bridges in Virginia. Less than 8 percent of them — roughly 1,600 — are considered structurally deficient, according to the state. That does not mean they are unsafe. It means they are aging and need repairs. And Virginia is not alone in this.
Most states are faced with the challenge of finding enough money to maintain crumbling infrastructure. Gov. Bob McDonnell promises his plan to raise an additional $3.1 billion over 5 years will provide more funding for bridges.
"We don't talk about that a lot, but I am very concerned overall about aging infrastructure," says McDonnell. "It's a problem for every governor in every state because so much of our interstate system and a lot of these bridges were built 30, 40, 50 years ago, and now the bills are due to upgrade, repair, replace."
The price tag is big, according to data at the Virginia Department of Transportation. It would take $1.5 billion to repair and replace the worst of the structurally deficient bridges, a process that could take years considering that in the current fiscal year, $185 million has been spent on bridge repair. The governor says his transportation plan would help.
"There are a fair number of bridges and overpasses that are in this plan," he says. "I mentioned the total new money is $3.1 billion in revenues over 5 years. Now that is on top of the $3.5 billion in bonds and infrastructure bank we passed in 2011. That's a $6 billion dollar shot in the arm for transportation infrastructure."
Nick Donohue is the policy director at Transportation for America, a D.C. based advocacy group. He says putting off bridge maintenance now will make it cost even more later on.
Every dollar of deferred maintenance will cost us $6 to $14 dollars down the road.
Donohue, who served as an assistant transportation secretary in the Kaine administration, says Virginia has a maintenance-first policy, so bridges should not be allowed to crumble.
"As we look at increased transportation spending, we need to make sure we take care of what we have before we go building new things," says Donohue. "As a homeowner, when your roof starts leaking, you don't go add an expansion."
Before the governor's plan becomes law, it has to overcome roadblocks in Richmond, namely opposition to his plan to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax.