Maybe it’s me, but transportation talk at the Legislature this session seems to be mostly limited to discussion over increasing the gas tax — or not, and building more public transit — or not.
Not much has been said about the state of bridges, an emotional issue given the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse where 13 people died.
A recent report by Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan group, found that 830 of Minnesota’s 12,961 bridges, or 6.4 percent, are considered “structurally deficient.” That means they’re in “urgent need of repair or replacement,” the report said.
The average life of these “subpar” bridges is 66 years — even though the “technical design life” of a bridge is 50 years. All told, one in 10 bridges in Minnesota was built before 1948, “older than the Korean War and Medicare,” the report said.
Most of the troubled bridges are locally owned, leaving cash-strapped counties and municipalities to deal with the rusty detritus. Freeborn County Commissioner Christopher Shoff, president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, said “closing a bridge is not a difficult decision because it’s for the greater good. But where the funding comes from gets to be a little more difficult.”
St. Louis County led the state with 102 deficient bridges, followed by Mower County, with 52. From a percentage standpoint, Lincoln County, in southwest Minnesota, led with 23 percent of its bridges deficient.
The report is an addendum to a study that Transportation for America released in 2013, which painted a dire picture of America’s bridges. Nineteen states have increased funding for transportation since then, the group notes.
How to pay for repairs is the real bugaboo. Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL-controlled Senate have proposed a wholesale gas tax to raise revenue to help fix bridges, while the Republican-controlled House supports using general fund and bonding money for the overhaul. At this point, the two sides appear far apart on the issue.
Janet Moore 612-673-7752 Twitter: @MooreStrib