Where Are America’s Most Vulnerable Bridges?

Each day, approximately 87,000 journeys are taken by drivers across the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which serves as a passage for Interstate 10 over the northern part of the city. This surpasses the bridge’s original capacity, designed back in 1952, by more than twice. Similar to many other aging structures across the nation, the bridge now demands immediate replacement.

According to Bloomberg, in many ways, the I-10 bridge shares several characteristics with the felled Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland. Both are continuous steel truss bridges spanning waterways, and they’re both “fracture critical.” That means they lack redundancy, and a failure of just one key element of the structure could eventually bring down the entire bridge, or a large portion of it.

The Calcasieu River Bridge isn’t at risk of getting hit by cargo vessels the size of Dali, the 984-feet container ship that struck the Key Bridge on March 26, causing it to collapse in a matter of seconds. But it has been struck by smaller boats in the past, including a casino barge that was blown into the bridge’s support piers during Hurricane Laura in 2020. And its deficiencies have long made it something of a poster child for America’s aging infrastructure: Plans to replace it first emerged in the 1980s, and several local, state and national leaders have pledged to follow through, including President Joe Biden, who visited in 2021 to promote his infrastructure bill, and his predecessor Donald Trump, who stopped by during his re-election campaign in 2019.

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