He added, "Gaining some time is not a bad thing," noting that only two surface-transportation bills have been finished on time, including the first interstate highway act, in 1956. One benefit would be to elevate the issue and get more members of Congress engaged in the issue, he said.

Industry Urges Action

Hoping to galvanize Congress even further, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) unveiled, on April 24, a detailed report on the nation's 63,000 structurally deficient (SD) bridges.

"This is a direct result of the failure of elected officials to provide investment levels necessary to modernize the infrastructure network," said Alison Premo Black, ARTBA chief economist, at a press briefing. The report, using data submitted by DOTs to the 2013 National Bridge Inventory database, noted 250 million annual crossings on SD bridges. While making clear the bridges are not necessarily unsafe, ARTBA used the report to push a sense of public urgency regarding the need to reauthorize MAP-21, citing economic and quality-of-life impacts— including 700,000 construction jobs.

The Obama administration and Congress have not mentioned the possibility of raising the federal fuel tax. Black stated, "Raising the gas tax, short term, is one of the most viable ways to look at increasing revenue. DOTs and local governments are making significant investments but simply don't have enough funding."

Pennsylvania's DOT is one example. The state last year approved Act 89, a five-year plan to inject up to $2.4 billion more a year, notes PennDOT spokesperson Jamie Legenos, saying, "[Despite] the uncertainty of federal funding beyond Sept. 30, we have the resources to keep our program moving in the immediate future."

Still, Legenos adds, "While we are not postponing or delaying any work now, we need a new federal funding plan in place so that progress made with Act 89 will not be undercut further down the road."

The ARTBA analysis found that the 250 most used SD bridges are on urban highways, particularly in California. Pennsylvania (5,218), Iowa (5,043), Oklahoma (4,227), Missouri (3,357) and California (2,769) have the highest number of SD bridges.

California's bridge program could last "one or two months on its own" without reauthorization, says Mark Dinger, Caltrans spokesman. "It puts all of our projects at risk," he says. Looming insolvency portends a disastrous slowing of reimbursements to contractors for ongoing projects. "We have 600 ongoing major construction contracts worth a combined $1 billion," Dinger says.

ARTBA used only the data submitted to the inventory, Black observed. "If you are looking at specific state estimates, reach out to the DOTs for a more accurate cost number," she said.

Such was the case with California. Of 24,000 state bridges, Caltrans operates 12,000. Dinger says 5.5% are SD, compared with 11% for the rest. "That shows we have an aggressive bridge inspection and repair program," he says. "The ARTBA report sort of lumps all of the bridges in California together."