Since the average bridge in the U.S. was only built to last about 50 years it's no surprise to learn that from coast to coast we have thousands of "structurally deficient" bridges that need some attention. But which ones will be repaired and which will be ignored?

In reading government "assessments" it's important to know that "structurally deficient" does not necessarily mean they're "crumbling" or "unsafe," according to Transportation For America, a national coalition dedicated purely to improving transportation infrastructure and securing federal funding.

"It’s worth clarifying that structurally deficient bridges aren’t necessarily below any type of safety code. Yes, the I-35W Minneapolis bridge was rated structurally deficient when it collapsed, but state DOTs will tell you that they close bridges that are unsafe. Some but not all deficient bridges urgently require replacement or repair. Neglecting repairs to these bridges now will cost us millions more down the road and increase the chance that they have to be closed or limited to traffic one day, also costing money in lost time and productivity," says the organization's director, James Corless.

More importantly, Corless makes the point that some states may be more successful than others in securing federal funding if their representatives know how to build the case for federal dollars based on local needs.

The case for more federal transportation spending is best made at the local district level, Corless says. A lot of House members have voted against spending more federal dollars on transportation, but aren’t shy about inserting their own earmarks for new roads or bridges or vying for stimulus dollars to address glaring transportation needs back home.

Talking about structurally deficient bridges takes on a different tone when one talks about the numbers of bridges in a particular member’s district that will remain deficient if spending isn’t increased or targeted to improve their condition.

Making a federal issue a local one could turn out to be a smart strategy to win support for a proposal that is “ambitious and pragmatic,” Corless added.

Using Transportation For America's data, Pennsylvania may have the greatest need for federal funding right now. Among metro markets with populations between 500,000 and 1 million, Pennsylvania has three markets in the top 5 listing of markets with the highest percentage of deficient bridges: They are: 1) Tulsa, OK (783); 2)Lancaster, PA (198); 3) Scranton, PA (239); 4) Des Moines, IA (358); 5) Allentown, PA (234).

In metro areas (population 1-2 million) the following areas are ranked among those with the highest percentage of deficient bridges: 1) Oklahoma City, OK (685); 2) San Jose, CA (189); 3) Providence, RI(212); 4) Charlotte, NC (217); 5) Rochester, NY (142).

In metro areas (population over 2 million)these cities are the top five with the highest percentage of deficient bridges: 1) Pittsburgh (1,133); 2) San Francisco (380); 3) Philadelphia (907); 4) Sacramento (211); 5) Riverside, CA (296).

Transportation for America is a nonpartisan coalition that advocates for the development and implementation of a 21st century federal transportation program that "Empowers states, regions, and cities with direct transportation funding and greater flexibility to select projects, using carrots and sticks to incentivize wise transportation investments and in return require demonstrated performance on meeting national objectives.

For more info, Transportation for America.