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InsiderOnline Blog: October 2008

Where Did $9 Billion in Bridge Repair Funds Go?

Following the collapse of the St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, which killed 13 people, members of Congress moved quickly to immunize themselves from charges that they had neglected bridge repair in the federal budget. Congress put $1 billion in additional funding for bridge repairs into the fiscal year 2008 budget. Some members now want further increases as well.  

It turns out, however, that the federal government had already made a significant amount of money available for bridge repair that the states did not spend on bridge repair. Using data from a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, Heritage’s Ron Utt calculates that between FY 2002 and FY 2007, the gap between what the federal government made available to the states for bridge repair and the amount of that money the states actually spent on bridge repair is $9.29 billion. That represents about a third of the total federal funding for bridge repair over that time period.  

What happened? Much of the gap, says Utt, remains a mystery, but at least $2.1 billion was diverted by the states to other transportation priorities, such as building new bridges and funding transit projects. Pennsylvania, notes Utt, was one of the leading states at diverting money from bridge repair to other purposes. Pennsylvania also leads the nation in percentage of bridges deemed structurally deficient: 25 percent. Nationally, only 12 percent of bridges are deemed structurally deficient.

The CRS data suggest that if there is a problem with bridge funding, it is not the level of federal funding. Indeed, notes Utt, even before the bridge collapse, Congress had already been increasing funding rapidly for bridge repair. Between 2002 and 2007, the federal government appropriated an average of $4.5 billion per year for bridge repair. The 2001 figure was only $1.9 billion. The government actually has some results to show for the additional outlays, too. According to Department of Transportation data, 18.7 percent of bridges were deemed structurally deficient in 1994. As noted, the figure for 2007 stood at 12 percent.  

Before rushing ahead with additional increases in federal funding for bridge repair, Congress should instruct the DOT inspector general to account for the $9.29 billion gap between what the states could have spent and what they actually did spend on bridge repair.

Posted on 10/23/08 02:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

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