Nearly 2,300 bridges in Illinois are "structurally deficient" and in need immediate repair, and the most heavily traveled bad bridges are all in the Chicagoland area, a transportation advocacy group announced Tuesday.
Transportation for America said in its report that the bridges in need of repairs are crossed more than 8.1 million times a year and include five -- three that cross Chicago's famed Lake Shore Drive -- that see more than 100,000 vehicles cross a day.
"Drivers in Illinois are regularly traveling across heavily traveled bridges with 'poor' ratings -- bridges that could become dangerous or closed without repair," according to the report.
More than 7,000 of the state's 26,000 bridges at least 50 years old -- a number that will climb to 14,000 in 2030, the report said. However, it does not identify any dangerous bridges now open to the public in Illinois.
On Tuesday, Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for the state's transportation department, said the bridges are regularly inspected and that "there are no unsafe or dangerous bridges open to the public in Illinois."
Tridgell also said that the figures that Transportation for America relied upon are dated and likely do not reflect the work that has been done on bridges as result of a massive multi-billion state capital plan that was launched in 2009.
"We've repaired more than 500 bridges so far since the program was passed," said Tridgell, who also pointed out that the percentage of bridges classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in Illinois is lower than the national average.
Illinois has the lowest percentage of bridges with that classification than any of the 10 states with the most bridges, he said.
The group, which announced its report in the shadow of a Chicago bridge that shows obvious cracks and exposed metal bars once encased in concrete, acknowledged the percentage of bridges classified as structurally deficient in Illinois is 8.5 percent, lower than the 11.5 percent of structurally deficient bridges in the United States.
The group also said that the federal government must dramatically increase its funding for bridge repair, saying, for example, that the $5.2 billion the Federal Highway Bridge Program said was allocated in 2009 to repair and replace deteriorating bridges was a fraction of the $70.9 billion needed.
The group said that as a result what is being done amounts to patchwork that only delays the more extensive necessary work that needs to be done.
"It's just digging taxpayers into a bigger hole where we are going to have more and more infrastructure needs that will require more and more dollars to address problems..," said Brian Imus, of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, which is a member of the Transportation of America Coalition.
He and others called on the federal government to increase funding around the country, and in Illinois, where it estimates more than $1.8 billion is needed to fix the state's bridges.
"It is clear that Congress needs to do the difficult work of finding funding for capital investments," said Gideon Blustein, executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.