Just when it seemed Michigan’s infrastructure couldn’t get any worse, Transportation for America — a non-profit organization focused on gaining support for laws in favor of progressive transportation — released a troubling report on Michigan bridges that adds considerable insult to the already-injured state economy.

According to a March 28 MLive.com article, the report found that 1,400 of Michigan’s 10,928 highway bridges — or 13.1 percent — are “structurally deficient.” This classification of “structurally deficient” means that one of four bridge components — the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert — was deemed to be in “poor” condition by National Bridge Inventory standards. The figure isn’t a staggering contrast from the national average of 11.5 percent, but with Michigan’s decade-long budget crisis, the state is far less prepared to solve the issue.

The report also states that Michigan exhausts all its federal bridge money on bridge repair, and flexes even more money from other sources to supplement the shortfall. Though Michigan’s budget crisis has severely hindered the state’s ability to reallocate state and federal funds, bridges are a vital component of the state’s infrastructure and must be maintained.

A report released on March 17 by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending — a non-profit group that is concerned with Michigan’s punitive strategies — indicated that the Michigan Department of Corrections appropriation currently uses 25 percent of the state’s general fund budget — more than what’s allocated to schools and universities. In spite of the sweeping measures Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has implemented to reconcile the state budget, the corrections budget has remained virtually untouched. Some sensible options that would free up these funds for bridge repair include privatization of the prison system and reduction or elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

In an Mlive.com article, Keith Ledbetter, a lobbyist for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, reassures Michigan drivers that the Michigan Department of Transportation is vigilant in its inspections of structurally deficient bridges, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of the country’s bridges are rapidly approaching their projected life spans of 50 years. The average age of bridges in the United States is 42 years, and Michigan’s average is slightly less at 41.3 years.

Additionally, many of these bridges have significant surface damage — potholes, ruts and cracks in the pavement — that are contributing factors to poor gas mileage and increased car repair costs. If the damage gets bad enough, an entire bridge may have to be closed for a period of repair. If a bridge is a vital commuting route, the closure can lead to increased commute times and added gas expense. These concerns don’t include the potential for injury and death in the case of a bridge’s collapse.

The evidence plainly shows that the nation’s bridge infrastructure is in trouble, and Michigan’s is in even worse danger. The state government needs to reevaluate its priorities regarding the general fund budget to ensure that adequate funds are available to repair the state’s deteriorating bridges and roads, not only to avoid the ongoing nuisance they pose for drivers, but to prevent more severe consequences in the future.

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