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Editorial: A bridge collapse may come once more

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opinion Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The Interstate 35W bridge collapsed five years ago today, falling in quick order into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100 other individuals.

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It was supposed to be a seminal moment in America's history of infrastructure investment and maintenance.

The nationwide investment expected to fuel an upgrade of America's aging infrastructure has never really developed.

Minnesota has made a little more progress. The Legislature approved a 2008 plan borrowing $1.2 billion over 10 years to fix Minnesota bridges. The state also approved a state gas tax increase to help pay for the investment.

A new I-35W bridge has been built in Minneapolis as has the state Highway 23 bridge in St. Cloud, both bridges being primary crossing points over the Mississippi River in their respective locales. The state is nearing the midway point in repairing or replacing 136 bridges classified as "seriously deficient," according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Nationwide the fight to invest more in America's infrastructure has run into a critical problem -- an unresponsive, dysfunctional and gridlocked Congress. Nationwide more than 69,000 bridges remain on the "structurally deficient" list. This is about 11.5 percent of all bridges in the United States.

The national gas tax has not been increased since 1993. The issue is complicated by the increasing efficiency of new cars and a trend of declining travel due to a sagging economy and other factors. This results in a gas tax being a declining funding source as the nationwide demand for bridge repair keeps growing.

Most experts agree that a new funding source -- such as a new tax based upon vehicle mileage -- is needed. In today's dysfunctional political climate, no one expects a solution anytime soon.

Sadly the lesson of the I-35W bridge disaster has not learned. The reality is that this tragic bridge collapse tragedy can and may happen again.

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