Our Voice: Road and bridge repairs remain critical need for us all

Farm Forum

No one should have to remind a Midwesterner about bridge failures.

On Aug. 1, 2007, the Minneapolis I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River failed at 6:05 p.m. during bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic.

Thirteen dead, 145 injured.

When something like that happens in your backyard on a bridge many of us had been on at one time or another, it leaves a lasting memory.

So when an expert such as Brown County’s highway superintendent Jan Weismantel warns us that bridges are in need of repair, we need to listen.

Weismantel has a thankless job when it comes to matters such as these. She noted that there are long waits for two Brown County bridges added in the past few years to the federal bridge program. In the program, the federal government pays 80 percent, the counties 20 percent.

One of the bridges is on County Road 5 west of Hecla. Weismantel has been told the rough replacement date will be 2025.

“That is an extremely long time to wait when the bridge is so critical to travel west of Hecla for farmers and the general public,” she wrote in her comments to state transportation officials.

The second bridge is on County Road 11, west of County Road 14. It was once scheduled to be replaced in 2017, but has been pushed back to 2021.

Two bridges scheduled to be replaced this year had to be delayed until next year because of state Department of Transportation design issues, she said. One is on County Road 5, 9 miles west of Frederick. It’s down to one lane because of abutment issues, she said. Getting it in the federal bridge program has taken 17-plus years, she wrote.

The other bridge is just south of Columbia on County Road 16. Because of the delay, it won’t be available for farmers to use during this year’s harvest.

“The farming community is going to be up in arms when harvest comes and they aren’t going to be able to cross this bridge,” Weismantel wrote.

When fall comes, don’t say she did not warn you in July.

Now, the state’s 66 counties vie for $7.5 million annually, the amount of federal money available for bridge and road repairs. That’s just not enough, Weismantel said.

We agree, but doubt the federal government will follow through on redirecting money to this important safety issue. More people need to join the fight to solve the problem of America’s aging bridges and roads.

More voices prompt more action.

Private funding is not the answer. When private money becomes involved, priorities start to bend toward the money source and fairness can skid into the ditch.

Besides, we already are paying for these bridge and road fixes with our taxes.

There are no easy answers, and these are expensive items to fix. The needs are critical, and it is a nationwide problem.

We hate the idea of just throwing money at something to fix a problem. But either the federal government needs to do more in this area with the money available, or we as a county and state need to come up with a way to repair our own transportation problems.

— American News editorial board