"According to the latest survey, 37 percent of West Virginia's bridges are structurally deficient. But that does not mean they are all about to fall down," Clowser said.
"The collapse of the I-5 Bridge was only an economic and traveling disruption," Clowser said. "But the collapse of the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis turned into a human tragedy."
West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Paul A. Mattox Jr. did not have an immediate statement about the new federal DOT audit.
Brent Walker, communications director for the state's DOT, said Friday that they would wait to see what the federal DOT does before proceeding.
In his 2011 book, "Too Big To Fall: America's Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward," Barry B. LePatner told the story of the I-35 West Bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring 145 people.
For years, the West Bridge had been deteriorating, LaPatner wrote. But Minnesota's Department of Transportation repeatedly ignored increasingly poor ratings given to the bridge during the 16 years before the tragic collapse.
The American Society of Civil Engineers believes about $2.2 trillion will eventually be needed to repair all of our roads and bridges, wrote LaPatner, a lawyer and business advisor in New York.
Poor road conditions cost American motorists $54 billion in additional repairs each year, LaPatner estimates. That comes to an average of $275 for each vehicle owner.
Clowser also expressed concerns about long-term federal highway legislation. For decades, Congress passed multi-year legislation guaranteeing funding for road-building projects, which typically take many years.
In recent years, Congress has often renewed highway funding for only several months. Huge appropriations bills to fund the federal Department of Transportation are stalled in both the House and the Senate.
"We have to show the public the importance of safe roads and safe bridges on an ongoing basis. At some point, Congress has got to move forward to dealing with those revenue shortfalls," Clowser said.
"Rahall is very much on top of that issue. But he is only one of 535 people up there in Congress," Clowser said.
"If we don't come up with a federal highway bill by September 2014, we are going to get further and further behind the curve."Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.