Editorials, Opinion

Decades of gov’t neglect prove to be dangerous

It was one of those horrifying images out of an action-adventure or superhero movie: A bridge collapses, sending cars and a bus plummeting into a ravine.

While there were heroes aplenty to rescue the victims, this tragedy wasn’t caused by a natural disaster, like an earthquake, or a supervillain with some kind of high-tech weapon.

The culprit here was decades of neglect: The bridge rotted while politicians debated whether or not it was worth investing money into infrastructure.

The 50-year-old Forbes Avenue bridge crossing Fern Hollow Creek in Pittsburgh collapsed before 7 a.m. Jan. 28, mere hours before President Biden arrived in the city to promote the recent infrastructure law. Miraculously, there were no deaths, but several people were injured.

The Associated Press reported, “[A] September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.” It also reported that information on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, meaning “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”

This incident strikes close to home for Mountaineers; West Virginia received a D on its 2020 infrastructure report card. According to the report card’s overview, “much of the state’s infrastructure constructed over the past 70 years has deteriorated, while new construction, replacement, rehabilitation and repair efforts have not kept pace with the needs.”

What happened in Pittsburgh can easily happen here. The National Bridge Inventory records 38 bridges (34 of which are more than 50 years old) in Monongalia County and 37 bridges (26 of which are more than 50 years old) in Preston County that are rated poor.

West Virginia is predicted to get around $6 billion of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, with approximately $500 million of that earmarked specifically for bridges.

These funds are desperately needed, but the wheels of government bureaucracy turn slowly, and it may be next winter before those federal dollars hit the state coffers. The collapse of the Forbes Avenue bridge reminds us that time is not a luxury we have when infrastructure continues to deteriorate more and more every day.

Gov. Justice, his administration and the Legislature need to start releasing funds so work on poor-rated bridges and roads can start as soon as the weather permits.

Justice keeps bragging about the hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus tax revenue, so we know the state has the money to get started. It’s time to stop talking about fixing our infrastructure and time to start doing it.

Potholed roads can cost hundreds of dollars in damage to a car, but a collapsing bridge can cost people their lives. We hope Justice agrees that West Virginians’ safety is worth the investment.