Collapsing Bridges and Other Dangerous Infrastructures in the U.S. That Are a Recipe for Disaster

America received a big fat D+ for its infrastructure grade in 2017, and from what we can tell, that grade does not seem to be improving quickly. Rest assured this grade is not haphazardly given. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) takes a hard look at each sector of our nation’s infrastructures — bridges, roads, dams, and waterways to name a few — and provide a report card for the nation every four years.

Perhaps you recall the levee failure in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or the most recent collapse of the Miami pedestrian bridge. Both the tragedy and engineering nightmares of these kinds of events raise a major cause for concern in regards to the soundness of this country’s foundational frameworkCould these bridges and other dangerous infrastructures be recipes for disaster? 

1. Lake Oroville Dam crisis

A view of of the heavily damaged spillway at Lake Oroville in Oroville, California

The dam cracked. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Built in 1968

The tallest dam in the United States is located about 75 miles north of Sacremento at Oroville Lake. In February 2017, after a deluge of rainfall in California, the lake was overfilling and needed to be released. When officials began releasing water, a crack was discovered in the spillway, in addition to heavy erosion threatening to compromise the integrity of the entire system. Nearly 200,000 Californians were evacuated for fear of a life-threatening flood.

While the state of California managed to borrow $500 million from the U.S. in order to repair the dam, residents remain unsure that the dam will achieve sustained, safe, and reliable repair.

Next: This Las Vegas bridge is unsound, yet still open.

2. Interstate 515 bridge over Eastern Avenue in Las Vegas

The Interstate-90 bridge over St. Louis Bay in Pass Christian, Mississippi, is folded and destroyed from the high wind and waves Hurricane Katrina

The bridge is in terrible shape. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

  • 122,400 daily crossings

The Interstate 515 bridge crossing over Eastern Avenue is in now considered to be in foul shape. And when you consider that the bridge has well over 100,000 crossings every single day, it’s fair to say it is in need of a revamp. The state of Nevada received a C- grade from the ASCE in 2017, yet it is unclear whether this bridge (along with others in the state) is on the docket for its much-need facelift.

Next: A highly-trafficked bay area bridge needs of attention.

3. Interstate 680 bridge over Monument Boulevard

Interstate 680 bridge

It should be a top priority. | Google Maps

  • 235,000 daily crossings

Located in Concord, California just east of San Francisco, the Interstate 680 bridge crossing over Monument Boulevard has been deemed structurally deficient for three years in a row. Considering I-680 is a major thoroughfare for the bay area, a repair should be top priority. Of the 25,431 bridges in the state of California, 1,388 are not structurally sound.

Next: This Texas dam’s failure would be the worst in the nation.

4. The unease of the Lewisville Lake Dam

Lewisville Lake and Dam

It’s a cause for serious concern. | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Wikimedia Commons

  • Built in 1955

While seepage is not unheard of with an earthen embankment, the seepage at Lewisville Lake Dam has presented cause for concern. The reservoir supplies water for the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, creating a crucial need for the water to remain safe. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, a failure of this dam would cause the most catastrophic flood this nation has ever seen. Furthermore, the Lewisville Dam has been dubbed by the Corps as “high risk of failure under an extreme event.”

Next: Multiple bridges in this major Pennsylvanian city need more love.

5. Interstate 95 bridge over Fraley Street in Philadelphia

Interstate 95 and Fraley

The bridge has been structurally deficient for years. | Google Maps

  • 191,696 daily crossings

Interstate 95 is critical to the flow of Philadelphia’s traffic, yet more than just the Fraley Street bridge crossing has been labeled structurally deficient for years on end. Less than one mile from the bridge is the Comly Street bridge crossing that is also facing structural deficiency. Pennsylvania’s overall ASCE score for 2017 was a C-.

Next: Waterways are an asset to the nation’s economy.

6. Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock in New Orleans

Industrial Canal Lock new orleans

The lock needs a $1 billion replacement. | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Wikimedia Commons

  • Built in 1926

The Mississippi River has long been a throughway for commerce. In fact, the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way, which connects waterways from Massachusetts to Texas, greatly depends on the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock (and dams) to help control the levels of water and flooding in order for ships to easily navigate. Due to the lock’s inefficiency, the Army Corps of Engineers believe it’s time for a $1 billion replacement lock.

Next: This smallest state has big issues with its roadways.

7. Interstate 95 bridges in Providence

Interstate 95 bridge providence

It’s a huge spot of concern. | Marcbela/Wikimedia Commons

  • 812,653 total daily crossings

The numerous bridge crossings on Rhode Island’s stretch of Interstate 95 experience over 800,000 crossings every single day. The ones of concern are over US 6, Blackstone Street, Elmwood Avenue, Wellington Avenue, and the Amtrak. According to the ASCE, nearly 25 percent of the nation’s smallest state’s bridges are structurally deficient. This, along with a host of other needs, leaves Rhode Island with a D+ grade for its infrastructure.

Next: The collapse heard round the nation

8. The collapse of the pedestrian bridge in Miami

Workers, law enforcement and members of the National Transportation Safety Board investigate the scene where a pedestrian bridge collapsed a few days

The bridge collapse was a shock. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“I heard a creak, a long creak…I looked up, and in an instant, the bridge was collapsing on us completely. It was too quick to do anything about it,” said Richie Humble, a survivor who managed to escape the rubble of the pedestrian bridge. Sadly, Humble’s close friend Alexa Duran did not survive. This unfinished Miami pedestrian bridge was grossly over-budget and behind schedule already, and upon its collapse killed six individuals and injured more.

Next: A capital city with dangerous bridges.

9. Nashville’s Interstate 24 bridge over Mill Creek

Interstate 24 over Mill Creek

The highly trafficked bridges need work. | Google Maps

  • 162,920 daily crossings

It’s not just the Mill Creek bridge crossing that is facing structural deficiency on Interstate 24. Additional crossings at Cowan Street and Spring Street are also leaving much to be desired in the way of safety. Even though the bridges across the state are in far better shape than others, Tennessee’s more highly trafficked bridges in Nashville are in need of attention.

Next: Is Hawaii’s highways in peril? 

10. Bridge over Kapalama Canal on Nimitz Highway

Bridge over Kapalama Canal

They’ve lowered the weight limit to extend its life. | Google Maps

  • 73,935 daily crossings

Of the 1,132 bridges in Hawaii, 68 of them are not doing so hot. And the same goes for the state’s road systems, as 38 percent of them are in poor condition. As for Nimitz Highway in Honolulu, the bridge crossings over Kapalama Canal and Nu’uanu Stream are structurally deficient. Luckily for the Nu’uanu Stream bridge, officials have lowered the maximum weight limit to 28 tons in hopes of extending its life.

Next: A dam disaster 

11. Bursting of the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada

Twentyone Mile Dam

It was ‘low hazard’ when it burst. | Google Maps

The consequences associated with a failed dam do not only threatening lives. Massive flooding also wreaks havoc on entire communities and their economies. The Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada was considered to be “low hazard” when it burst, basically meaning that loss of life was unlikely. That held true, however, widespread flooding did impact the northern Nevada area.

Next: The national outlook on something no one wants to live without

12. U.S. wastewater plants need $271 billion

A huge tank full of wastewater is seen at DC Water's Blue Plains plant in Washington

Most homes have clean water thanks to these plants. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Wastewater treatment plants provide a true luxury for Americans. From our homes, we flush our toilets, wash our dishes, and the drink the clean water that pours out of the faucet. The nation received a D+ for its wastewater treatment infrastructures, and that is largely due to the need for additional funding in order to keep up with the current and future demands of a growing population. Over the course of the next 20 years, ASCE estimates that the wastewater plants will need to acquire $271 billion to keep up with the pace of life.

Next: How are the highways in your town? 

13. 1 of every 5 miles of highway is in bad shape

Police block a road near a newly installed pedestrian bridge, that collapsed, over a six-lane highway in Miami, Florida

A huge number of highways are in bad condition. | Antoni Belchi/AFP/Getty Images

America has over four million miles of roadway –albeit some are gravel and dirt. But of those four million miles, one in every five is in bad condition. The nauseating part of this conundrum is the amount of funding needed to get the roads up-to-snuff, in addition to the costs of future maintenance. Just to play catch-up, the roadways across the nation need $420 billion.

Next: So many communities go without this necessity.

14. Public transit has a $90 billion rehab backlog

Public transit is a mess in many places. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Not everyone can afford to buy, maintain, and insure a vehicle. Because of that, public transit is crucial to the economy of a city — shuttling employees back and forth to their homes. Although cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and D.C. are known for quality public transportation, other cities go completely without it. In order to bring the nationwide public transit problem back up to speed, $90 billion needs to be invested.

Next: The dam big picture

15. $45 billion is needed to repair the nation’s aging dams

The Oroville Dam releases 100,000 cubic feet of water per second down the main spillway in Oroville, California

So many of dams are decrepit. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

It has already been discussed that the nation’s dams are old and decrepit, yet the reality of getting the problematic dams back to a safety is equal to about $45 billion. 17 percent of the nation’s dams are considered “high hazard,” which means a failure would likely equal loss of life. These aging dams are in need of much care.

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