Thursday morning, in the wake of the previous day's bridge collapse on I-35W in Minneapolis, we contacted the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding the status of local bridges.
To date, we haven't received a response. It seems that virtually every other newspaper in the state is asking the same type of question.
We hope to have an answer for area motorists within the next few days. It's not that we suspect any problems with our bridges. Given the tragedy Minnesota just experienced, it would just be nice to know this type of information.
Meanwhile, it appears that whatever information we receive about the bridges on Highways 60-71 and 62 could change within the next year. State officials announced late last week that all of Minnesota's 13,000-plus bridges will receive inspections starting almost immediately.
It certainly has changed, hasn't it - the state's priority list as it relates to transportation? When was the last time we heard a governor put any form of urgency in Minnesota's bridge inspections?
We'd probably have to go back a few decades - at least.
Let's face it, the State of Minnesota has taken a patchwork approach to its transportation system for at least a couple of decades. What we are now seeing is clearly a case of state officials reacting to a tragedy and the public pressure that has ensued.
At the very least, we can anticipate lawmakers to take decisive action in the 2008 session to repair and rebuild bridges.
Here are a few things that would not surprise us in the least:
Immediate efforts to close and replace bridges that are determined to be deficient as a result of current state inspections.
The approval of a significant gas tax increase with proceeds going toward highway infrastructure improvements.
A clear focus on metro transit and highway funding at the expense of the rural highways and county highway funding.
Our biggest concern is that the third item on that list will become reality. At the moment, the metro area has a clear advantage in sheer volume of lawmakers. As a result, we see growing concerns that future highway funding will push rural concerns to the back burner.
The challenge before rural lawmakers is to convince metro lawmakers of the importance of addressing all state highway needs equally - without favoring the metro area.
It is about time that state lawmakers address our deteriorating highways and bridges. It's too bad, however, it took a tragedy to push them to this point.