While the precise cause of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse may not be known for months there's one certainty almost no one disputes: The U.S. has largely ignored much needed maintenance for its aging infrastructure.
Unless tragedy strikes, roads, bridges and sewers are not the type of hot button, social issues that receive an abundance of attention from politicians and the media. Yet a safe and reliable infrastructure makes up the "nuts and bolts" of our economy. It's the bedrock of services that our government is called upon to provide for its citizens.
The issue goes far beyond the Aug. 1 tragedy in Minneapolis. Minnesota's transportation system has been woefully under-funded for years and traffic congestion seems to reach new heights each year. A burst steam pipe that had been installed in 1924 was blamed for the death of one person and injuries to 20 others in Midtown Manhattan last month.
The analogy has been made that public infrastructures are similar to new homes. Starting at day one, they begin to deteriorate as the result of wear and tear and the effects of nature. If a home is not maintained by periodic painting or the replacing of worn flooring it will eventually decline.
Today, about 30 percent of U.S. bridges are obsolete or structurally faulty. It's likely that a study of our dams, roadways and sewer systems would reveal similar findings.
Minnesota's gas tax, which was last increased in 1988, is long overdue for a hike. The number of state roads and the number of drivers on those roads has multiplied in the last 19 years and several governors and legislatures have failed to increase the revenue stream.
Gov. Pawlenty is right to look upon the bridge collapse as a wake-up call for state politicians. The Legislature should meet in special session and consider a wide range of solutions to our transportation mess. These solutions might include a gas tax hike, bonding for projects and even toll roadways and bridges.
Ignoring our infrastructure is no longer an option.
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