Leadership needed to solve bridge-road funding riddle

A story on Monday’s front page of The Mining Journal should have caught everyone’s attention. Authored by The Associated Press, it detailed an AP study of bridges in the state of Michigan and the news was a mixed bag, at best, and not altogether unexpected.

The AP review found that a number of bridges in the state are in exceedingly poor condition, including a handful in the Upper Peninsula. AP reported that out of 28 Michigan bridges that are considered “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical,” eight are located above the bridge.

Included are three spans over the Whitefish River in Alger County and bridges over the Power Canal on West Portage Avenue in Sault Ste. Marie, the Rapid River on County Road H1 in Delta County, and three bridges in Gogebic County, including over the Presque Isle River on Copps Mine Road, Jackson Creek on Planter Road and the Ontonagon River on Miller Road.

A bridge is structurally deficient if at least one major component has significant deterioration. A bridge is fracture critical if the failure of a single, vital component could cause a collapse, AP stated.

Sources quoted in the AP story were quick to note that the public shouldn’t be alarmed – at least too much. Yes, the bridges are safe to cross but all should be repaired or replaced at some point. And that, of course, is where it gets sticky. While everyone typically agrees old, rickety bridges need addressing, funding is always the issue.

AP noted that Michigan’s main transportation fund is at its lowest level in 30 years when adjusted for inflation because people are driving less and with more fuel-efficient cars. The 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax is the same as it was 15 years ago.

In February, Gov. Snyder called for raising fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees by $1.2 billion. But the plan was not embraced in the Legislature, and talks on an alternative have gained little traction.

And that’s pretty much where the debate ends.

Clearly, this is a problem, along with the broader issue of road construction and repair, that isn’t going to get solved by one party or the other. It’ll take bi-partisan leadership that is willing to make and accept compromises for the greater good. Problem is, that isn’t the way things are typically done in Lansing, or anywhere these days.

And the public’s pressing business continues to go undone.