Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 9, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: Time to fix the bridges

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — As I watched the TV reports on the collapse of the bridge that crossed the Skagit River in Washington State, a lot of old feelings resurfaced.

As a child I didn’t like bridges. Whenever we drove over one, especially over water, I’d make such a fuss that my father would drive on the inside lane so I wouldn’t have to look down. I don’t remember the first time I crossed the Mackinac Bridge, but it was in the early 1960s, a few years after the bridge opened. It opened in 1957, but I do remember I crossed it sitting on the floor of our car refusing to look out.

More than 600 bridges in the U.S. have collapsed since 1989. In a study issued last week by the advocacy group Transportation for America, titled “The Fix We’re In For,” it was reported that 69,000 bridges are in need of major repairs and many of those repairs have been postponed due to budget shortfalls. That means that nearly 12 percent of the bridges in the United States are “structurally deficient” and require replacement. The study breaks out each state and it shows that in Michigan more than 13 percent, about 1,400 bridges, are structurally deficient and should be repaired or replaced.

The average age of bridges across the country is forty-two years and, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, they were designed with a 50-year lifespan. In our backyard the majority of bridges seem to be in good shape. Of the 15 bridges within the Grand Traverse region, only four seem to have significant problems. The bridge on Front Street (built in 1902,) that crosses the Boardman River, rated structurally deficient; the Cass Road Bridge (built 1930) that crosses the Boardman River rated structurally deficient; the Park Street Bridge (built 1956) that crosses the Boardman River was rated structurally deficient; and the bridge crossing the Acme Creek (built 1928) on US 31 rated functionally obsolete.

The collapse in Washington is being blamed on a semi-driver who they say hit the cross beam and caused the roadway to give in. Of course if the bridge wasn’t crumbling in the first place, maybe hitting the cross beam wouldn’t have caused the whole bridge to fall into the Skagit River. Luckily no one was killed in this collapse, unlike the one in 2007 that killed 13 people when a 40-year-old bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Placing the blame on the driver is governmental obfuscation and our continued belief that we can run the country on the cheap and everything will be all right is ludicrous.

Fixing a “structurally deficient” bridge isn’t like “hot patching” a pot hole on Front Street. How many bridges do we need to fall into a river or how many people need to die before Congress provides enough money for the nation's infrastructure to be fixed? Do we need the Mackinac Bridge to collapse into the straits before anything is done?

The other issue to be addressed is J-O-B-S. Repairing, replacing and fixing 69,000 bridges and thousands upon thousands of roads will provide a ground swell of good paying jobs that are sorely needed in today’s economy. Yet the only bridge Gov. Rick Snyder is interested in is the new bridge to Canada, which I favor, but the use of the limited federal funds needs to be used to resurface, repair and rebuild our roads and bridges before diverting those precious dollars anywhere else. Our Republican controlled House and Senate certainly have no interest in increasing taxes, gas or otherwise, to cover the cost. They say it’s a federal issue and Congress needs to provide more money. Congress says it’s a state issue and we need to fend for ourselves. I say it’s a national issue that needs to be fixed by all parties.

The Eisenhower Interstate Highway system was passed as a national security issue: roads to move troops and supplies in case of attack. It’s still a national security issue – security of the interstate economy, interstate travel and tourism.

Stop the partisan bickering and consider the welfare of the people.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor and the founder of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a consumer and financial services organization in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any senior issue, he can be reached at 231-922-1010 or