Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rickety and risky

Some of Idaho's bridges and the Air Force B-52 Superfortress have something in common.

They're more than 50 years old.

The similarity ends there.

To keep B-52s combat ready, they've been constantly upgraded with modernized new technologies and parts.

However, Idaho has done precious little to improve its aging bridges with replacement parts, strengthening and widening to safely accommodate increased load and traffic demands.

This threatens public safety. It also reflects on the unwillingness of state politicians to act boldly and wisely.

Legislators run for cover when raising fuel taxes is proposed to keep state roads, bridges and dams in safe, upgraded condition.

For a state whose economy relies on wheels to move goods from farms and factories and open new attractions to tourists, this dereliction is irresponsible.

Facts are hardly comforting. The Idaho Transportation Department rates 19 percent of the state's bridges deficient, 8 percent structurally deficient and 11 percent functionally obsolete. By 2017, more than half of the bridges will be more than 50 years old.

Will it take a major bridge failure, possibly involving human injuries or death, to rattle state lawmakers into action on raising funds, however politically unpopular that would be?

Bumpy narrow roads with frost heaves, cracks and potholes are an embarrassment. But old, unsafe, rickety bridges used by thousands of cars, trucks and buses each day is an outrage.

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