By Lisa Lambert and John Crawley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of bridges in the United States need major repair or replacement, and maintenance backlogs are growing amid tight federal and state budgets, according to a report released on Wednesday.
Transportation for America, a coalition of housing, business, public health and transportation organizations, said in its report that 11.5 percent, or 69,000, bridges need attention or replacement. It said more federal funding help is "essential."
"For bridges, lack of maintenance can lead to the sudden closure of a critical transportation link or, far worse, a collapse that results in lost lives and a significant decline in regional economic productivity," according to the report, which cited federal data and other sources.
Though the collapse of a 40-year-old bridge in Minneapolis nearly four years ago that killed 13 motorists raised concern about the condition of U.S. bridges, subsequent federal funding has not been enough to address the nationwide problem, the report said. The Minneapolis bridge collapse was blamed on design and quality control issues.
Federal spending for bridge repair has severely lagged estimates of needed funding. Federal spending increased by $650 million from 2006 through 2009, compared to the $22.8 billion that the Federal Highway Administration said it needed to fix deficiencies.
The American Society of Civil Engineers, the leading expert on U.S. infrastructure, has said the United States needs to invest $17 billion annually to improve current bridge conditions. According to a 2009 report, the country only spends $10.5 billion each year on bridges.
Severe budget crises in many states have left them unable to take on a greater share of the costs.
"The nation's bridges are aging and traffic demands are increasing, even as state and local revenues are shrinking," the report by Transportation for America said.
Currently, Congress is considering long-term legislation to fund transportation projects, and states hope to garner billions in new funding. President Barack Obama wants to put $336 billion into rebuilding roads and bridges over six years, with $70.5 billion for road and bridge repair in 2012.
More than 20 states have a higher percentage of deficient bridges than the national average of 11.5 percent.
Pennsylvania fares the worst with more than one in four bridges -- 5,906 of 22,271 -- structurally deficient, the report found.
In Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island and South Dakota more than 20 percent of bridges are deteriorating, and 12 percent of the 17,300 bridges in New York need work, the results showed.
Not surprisingly, desert states have fewer deficient bridges. In Nevada, only 2.2 percent of the 1,738 bridges need repair.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)