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Federal bridge repair program unfocused, says GAO

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Many of the nation’s largest and most seriously deficient bridges aren’t getting fixed because a federal program funding bridge repairs is unfocused and lacks sufficient standards, congressional investigators say.

The Highway Bridge Program that provided more than $4 billion to states last year has become so broad that "nearly any bridge" is potentially eligible for federal aid, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report being released Wednesday.

The number of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. decreased 22 percent between 1998 and 2007 — from 93,118 to 73,519. But most improvements have been to locally owned and rural bridges rather than the largest bridges in urban areas that carry the most people and goods, the report said.

"The federal interest in bridges lacks focus, there are no effective measures of program performance, and the impact of the increasing federal investment in bridges is unclear," the report says.

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The Federal Highway Administration, which administers the bridge program, said in a statement that the agency has "long cautioned that Congress’ insistence on establishing over 100 federal transportation programs presents states with needless overlaps, conflicting guidance and cumbersome process requirements. That is why we have called on Congress to significantly reduce the number of federal programs so states can be provided with clearer direction on how to ensure that crucial infrastructure needs are fully met."

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