Bridge to nowhere could happen anywhere

Ah, ‘tis spring — time for your local neighborhood bridge to cave in.

One of the most silent, yet most calamitous events taking place all across rural America is the swift deterioration and lack of repair or replacement for the nation’s rural bridges and highway infrastructure.

I’m sure many, if not all of us, can point to a bridge on some still vital rural road that is in terrible shape, maybe even truly dangerous shape. According to Epoch Times, these deteriorating conditions on rural roadways and bridges has caused a fatality rate that triples the national average for highways, a recent study shows.

The study authors, Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America are calling for a halt to any legislation out there that would eliminate federal funding for infrastructure. The AGC believes that elimination of funding would cripple the economy and further compromise safety.

Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC was quoted by Epoch Times as saying, “The best way to boost our economy, support private sector growth, and cut unemployment is to pass a new surface transportation bill. Killing funding for our aging roads and bridges would be tantamount to economic malpractice.”

Here’s why further deterioration of our rural roads is such a dangerous prospect. AGC’s study shows that the fatality rate on rural roads is 2.31 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel —three times the fatality rate on all other roads. Fifty-five percent of national rural roads were rated poor, mediocre or fair. And, almost a quarter of rural bridges, such as any you can identify in your neighborhood, were deemed by the study to be either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Isn’t that exciting? And, by the way, don’t blame the county engineer. He (or she) works with the buck they can get and that ain’t much.

Safety is not the only reason we should care about the condition of our rural roads and bridges. A national transportation research group called The Road Information Program (TRIP) is concerned about the fact that this infrastructure serves as a system in this country for the transport of produce and goods. TRIP is worried that some Washington lawmakers are calling for transportation cuts and some are advocating termination of federal transportation funding.

That wouldn’t matter if counties and cities had the money to take over maintenance and replacement of these structures. They do not. Nearly all rural roads are generally maintained by local and state governments, but without federal funding, we’d return to rutted mud roads (farmer-maintained) such as my grandparents traveled on in the 1920s and 30s.

According to the AGC, agriculture and business depend on rural roads to ship much of the national goods, and leaders in agriculture and industry have warned that cuts in federal highway funding will also deprive us of resources needed to improve road conditions, repair bridges and keep roads and bridges safe.

Additionally, Frank Moretti, TRIP director of research and policy told Epoch Times in a conference call, “Rural America plays a vital role in the U.S., is home to about 50 million people and much of the nation’s natural resources and is a primary source nationally of energy, food, and fiber.”

In other words, folks, who is going to fix or replace that hulk down the road that looms behind the “Bridge Out” sign?

I’ll see ya.


An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for more than 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected] sourivalley