Environment Weather

Infrastructure Deficit

South Platte River in Weld County, Colorado (AP Photo/John Wark)

South Platte River in Weld County, Colorado (AP Photo/John Wark)

As you’re likely aware the state of Colorado has been battered by record-breaking floods that are now being called a 1 in 1,000 year event, and this event has exposed what has previously been described as an infrastructure deficit. That is the cost of disaster, repair, and loss of productivity being greater than the cost of reinvesting in our infrastructure. Infrastructure which is, to say the least, vulnerable and ill-equipped to cope with climate change.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has announced that at least 30 bridges in the area have been disabled while as many as 150 miles of roads will need to be repaired. But according to a new report from the Associated Press, this doesn’t even begin to convey the severity of our infrastructure deficit.

An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as “structurally deficient” and 20,808 as “fracture critical.” Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

A bridge is deemed fracture critical when it doesn’t have redundant protections and is at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails. A bridge is structurally deficient when it is in need of rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component of the span has advanced deterioration or other problems that lead inspectors to deem its condition poor or worse.


Many fracture critical bridges were erected in the 1950s to 1970s during construction of the interstate highway system because they were relatively cheap and easy to build. Now they have exceeded their designed life expectancy but are still carrying traffic — often more cars and trucks than they were originally expected to handle. The Interstate 5 bridge in Washington state that collapsed in May was fracture critical.

Losing 30 bridges and 150 miles of roadways sounds like the damage that you would usually associate with a major Hurricane, but what hit Colorado over the past week was a series of heavy rainstorms that could happen anywhere. And how can we be sure that what was previously a 100 or 1,000 year even won’t become a 10 year event because of climate change?

Unfortunately it seems unlikely that the federal government will approve any major plans to reinvest in the nation’s infrastructure until the House of Representatives is once again occupied by a majority of Democrats.

It was a Democratic Congress that approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus), which did put a dent in our infrastructure deficit, but our current Congress is busy trying to defund and delay Obamacare by holding the federal government hostage.

Before Americans head to the polls and before they consider not voting, they should ask themselves if sticking it to The Man is really worth the consequences of handing the keys over to Republicans. Democrats may not be perfect, but they won’t stand by while the country literally falls apart.