Guess what happens when Washington gridlock, aging infrastructure and warped national priorities intersect?

Things don’t get built, or repaired. Like bridges — a crucial component of the national transportation system. The Los Angeles Times reports Tuesday that at least 8,000 spans across the country are “structurally deficient,” yet countless motorists cross them every day. “These bridges will all eventually fall down,” construction attorney Barry LePatner told the Times.

America’s roads and bridges have been eroding for decades, but the deeper they fall into disrepair, the less money there is to fix them. First, the recession crippled local budgets, cutting the money available for transportation projects. As states began to recover, the federal government adopted its own mandatory budget cuts via sequestration. Then last month, the federal legislation that annually funds transportation projects across the country hit a roadblock of Republican opposition that throttled multibillion-dollar transportation bills in the House and Senate.

The new political deadlock in Washington, D.C., comes as the Federal Highway Administration estimates that bridge and road repair needs have escalated to $20.5 billion a year.

This isn’t a “what if” scenario. Bridges have failed in recent years in Minnesota, killing 13 people, and in Washington state, severing a crucial trade and transportation link to Canada. The Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, a key link in the interstate system in that region, is on the deficient list.

Repairing and upgrading the bridges get more difficult and more expensive the longer the work is delayed. But there’s more than public safety at issue. Imagine what the infusion of billions of dollars a year would do for local economies, putting a variety of people, such as engineers and concrete pourers, to work.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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