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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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May 24th, 2013
06:26 PM ET

Bridge repairs compete with 'sexy' new infrastructure projects

A Washington State bridge collapsed Thursday after a tractor trailer with an over-sized load struck part of the bridge, sending two vehicles into the water dozens of feet below.

Amazingly, no one died.

"You hold on as tight as you can," Dan Sligh told CNN affiliate KOMO. Then, a "white flash and cold water." Sligh was one of the three people who fell into the freezing waters of the Skagit River.

The governor's office declared a state of emergency in three counties, and said the estimated cost to fix the bridge is $15 million.

The bridge was rated "functionally obsolete," but that does not mean officials knew it was not safe. That rating is more about the width of the lanes and how it can handle traffic.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said in a press conference Friday that the bridge was not found to be "structurally deficient."

The collapse raises serious questions about the safety of American Bridges.

This bridge "had outlived its usefulness, in terms of today's traffic, and today's loads, like that big tractor trailer," said David Goldberg, communications director with Transportation for America.

Many such bridges are out there and need to be replaced, said Goldberg.

"The problem is they compete with all the other infrastructure needs, and the big mega projects that are frankly more sexy for ribbon cuttings than the kind of repair projects like this," said Goldberg.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a C+ to the 600,000 bridges in the U.S., 11% of them are considered structurally deficient.

The worry for American drivers is not that bridges will collapse, which actually rarely happens, said Goldberg. The concern should be the age of most American bridges.

"The typical bridge out there was designed to last 50 years, and the average age is 44," said Goldberg. The typical age of bridges considered "structurally deficient" is 65 years, he added.

Federal money pays for larger bridges, like the one that collapsed in Washington State. But there is political pressures to build new projects, which competes with the money for repairs, said Goldberg.

"We need to fix things before we build the new stuff we can't afford to maintain," said Goldberg.

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