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In-Depth: What President Biden's infrastructure plan means for San Diego bridges

Local bridges could get repaired under new plan
805 Bridge and Telegraph.png
Posted at 6:01 AM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 11:35:47-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - President Biden's new $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan could help pay for repairs to San Diego's worst bridges.

The plan doesn't mention specifics but says the President hopes to fix the 10,000 worst bridges in the country.

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's annual Bridge Report, there are 45,023 "structurally deficient" bridges in America in "poor" condition. That equates to 7.3% of all bridges in the country.

California is doing slightly better than the national numbers, with 1,536 bridges in "poor" condition, or 6.0 percent.

In San Diego, the percentage is even lower. Only 43 of the county's bridges are considered "poor," or 2.7 percent.

"There will be no question about which bridges need work," says ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Black. "Hopefully, we will let the economics and all that data dictate where these investments are made."

Among San Diego's worst bridges, three are also on ARTBA's list of the top 200 that average the most daily traffic. The I-805 bridge over Telegraph Canyon Drain is ranked 20th on the list, with 199,000 average daily car trips. The I-5 bridge over the SR-163 connector is ranked 21st, and the I-5 bridge over the De Anza off-ramp near Mission Bay is ranked 192nd.

Dr. Black says California has done an excellent job at rehabilitating bridges in the past years, as the percentage of "poor" bridges has declined since 2018. She credits new laws like SB 1, which raised fuel taxes to fund $54 billion of road projects, for the improvements.

"I think when you see these investments in California focusing on reducing the number of bridges in poor condition, we see that progress in that movement in the right direction," says Dr. Black.

But, she warns that it's not enough to fix the "poor" bridges alone. States should also focus on maintaining the bridges in "good" or "fair" condition, so they don't fall into the "poor" tier.

"This is an issue that impacts (everyone's) daily life, their commute," she says. "We've got school buses traveling over these bridges, and not to say that they are unsafe, but they are bridges that need to be fixed."

Passing the new infrastructure plan won't be easy. Critics on both sides of the aisle have found problems. Some say it raises taxes too much. Others say it doesn't go far enough on issues like global warming.

With Democrats holding a slim majority in Congress, the president will have to build political bridges before repairs can begin on actual ones.

"It's a step in the right direction," says Dr. Black, who notes that road and bridge congestion costs the US economy an estimated $42 billion every year.

"Not only do these investments create jobs, but in the longer run, they increase business productivity. It's going to put people back to work and help with the economic recovery after what we've gone through as a country in the past year."