Sunday, January 29, 2023
Jan. 29, 2023

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In Our View: Time to lay foundation for infrastructure effort

The Columbian
Published:

Washington and Oregon are not the only states in which bridges are a topic of conversation. Nor is the Interstate 5 Bridge the only span needing attention in this region.

According to a new report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, more than 47,000 bridges in the United States are “structurally deficient,” including 382 in Washington. In Clark County, the most heavily traveled deficient span is on I-5 over the East Fork of the Lewis River at the northern edge of the county.

“Structurally deficient” is not as ominous as it sounds. It does not mean that a bridge is likely to collapse, but that one of four key elements of the structure is rated poor or worse. And Washington’s 382 bridges in need of attention is no cause for panic. That represents 4.6 percent of the state’s spans, and most other states have a higher percentage of deficient bridges — including 23 percent in Rhode Island.

But the report points out the crumbling state of the nation’s infrastructure. At the current rate of repair, it will take more than 80 years to conduct necessary fixes on the country’s deficient bridges. Even if that is a bit of hyperbole, the situation is dire; it is no less disconcerting to think that repairs would take 40 years — or 20 years. Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that some $4.5 trillion needs to be spent by 2025 to shore up the nation’s roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure.

President Donald Trump has declared “infrastructure week” several times during his presidency and congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to work with Trump on rebuilding the country, but little progress has been made. Among the roadblocks is the fact that Congress has not increased the federal gas tax since 1993; since then, inflation has diminished the purchasing power of the tax, which is used to build and maintain roads.

Clark County residents are familiar with the needs of the nation’s infrastructure. The I-5 Bridge, while not listed as “structurally deficient,” has been deemed functionally obsolete, distressed and seismically inadequate. The state Legislature is considering funding to open an office dedicated to replacing the bridge, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently wrote to officials in her state regarding a potential project. “Its current condition poses a threat to Oregon’s economic vitality and is negatively impacting the livability of our state,” Brown wrote.

There is nothing revelatory about that, but it is a sign that momentum is building for replacement of the century-old span.

In the case of I-5, concerns are more economic than structural. In the case of many other spans in Clark County, the issues are safety and reliability. But the biggest worry is that you can point in any direction and find an infrastructure project that requires attention, commitment and, yes, funding.

Infrastructure is one area in which President Trump can bring Republicans and Democrats together, identifying a common purpose and avoiding the rancor that paralyzes the nation’s capital. As Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, said last week: “This issue has never been a partisan issue. Over time, we’ve always been able to work together in a bipartisan” way.

Be it roads, dams, airports or bridges big and small, the United States must start repairing its infrastructure. Failing to do so hampers the economy and quality of life while exponentially increasing costs down the road. And that is something both parties should be able to agree on.

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