The fatal collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis a year ago today was a wake-up call for states to start paying more attention to bridge maintenance and repair.While states scrambled to do inspections, they haven't been scrambling as fast to come up with the money to make repairs.
The work needed is considerable. In Vermont, there are 2,680 highway bridges. According to the most recent figures by the National Bridge Inventory, 488 bridges in Vermont ranked "structurally deficient," defined as a span that needs immediate attention, rehabilitation or replacement.
Another 464 Vermont bridges are ranked "functionally obsolete," defined as a span that doesn't meet current criteria for lane width, carrying capacity, clearance or roadway approach alignment.
That's 35.5 percent of Vermont's bridges that are not up to snuff. That puts our state at No. 8 in the nation for the percentage of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.
Fortunately, the Vermont Agency of Transportation knows which bridges are in urgent need of repair. The trick will be coming up with enough money to fix them.
That's a problem that Vermont shares with the rest of the nation.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will take spending close to $10 billion a year for the next 20 years to eliminate all the deficiencies in 150,000 bridges across the nation.
Revenue for the transportation fund in Vermont is declining because Vermonters are cutting back on their driving and buying less gasoline. Other states, and the federal transportation fund, are seeing the same revenue drops. So not only will Vermont have less money to fix its roads and bridges, but the federal government will have less money available, too.
A crumbling public infrastructure, combined with a lack of political will to spend the money it will take to rebuild and expand it, will doom this state and this nation to second-rate status. At every level of government, we need expanded public investment in our roads and bridges, as well as in mass transit, water and sewer systems, telecommunications, housing and public structures such as schools, hospitals and municipal buildings.
It's more than a little ironic that the Republican National Convention will be held in just a few weeks in Minneapolis. One year after the Minneapolis disaster, this nation remains the only major industrialized country that is not renewing or expanding its public infrastructure.
For the past three decades, our leaders in Washington have had a higher priority for tax cuts and corporate welfare for the rich than on spending money on things that benefit every American. Their hostility, stoked by decades of conservative ideologues, toward the idea of spending for the public good has come back to bite us all.
It's not to late to change this picture. Instead of a hollow government that only has money for wars and crony capitalism, we will need a recommitment toward government spending for the public good that will create jobs, boost the economy and prevent more needless tragedies.
A first-rate country deserves a first-rate infrastructure.
© 2008 Reformer