Statewide view: Minnesota’s infrastructure needs our attention nowThe National Bridge Inventory recently reported 7,795 of our nation’s bridges classify as “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical.” Four of those bridges are in the Northland.
By: Thomas J. Eggum, Duluth News Tribune
The National Bridge Inventory recently reported 7,795 of our nation’s bridges classify as “structurally deficient” and “fracture critical.” Four of those bridges are in the Northland.
Bridges with safety concerns are a serious symptom of a much larger problem facing Minnesotans. After decades of dwindling public investments in infrastructure we all use every day — bridges, roads, sewers, airports, rail corridors and more — these systems are at risk of failing.
I am an engineer who, along with other infrastructure professionals, helped establish MN2050, an initiative to inform our fellow Minnesotans why now is the time to wake up and address our infrastructure deficiencies.
We are not motivated to this call for action simply because investment in infrastructure will mean more work for engineers and our industry. This issue is bigger than securing our next contract. A failing infrastructure affects our safety, health and the future growth of our communities.
Much of our modern transportation, water and sewer systems was built more than half a century ago with money from my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. They were frugal folks who knew it was important to invest in infrastructure to improve the quality of life in our communities, allowing them to grow.
Our ancestors, their legacy was shaped by their farming heritage, lived by the rule that once you bought something you spent the time and money to keep it in good repair.
Today’s all-for-one and one-for-all concept of sharing the burden for the public good seems like an old-fashioned idea. Aggressive special interests compete for headlines and shrinking pots of money, siphoning attention and money away from public systems we all depend on, including safe bridges and roads and clean water.
In addition to the obvious safety risks posed by failing bridges, our failing infrastructure will affect our quality of life as well as our pocketbooks. We all will pay higher utility bills as costly repairs on aging water and sewer systems get passed on to consumers. Cars and airplanes will waste our time and air-polluting fuel as they idle on clogged roads and airstrips insufficient to meet growing demands. And we all will pay the cost of potential jobs that never come to our communities because of failing sewer systems that cannot handle expansion to attract new business.
Addressing expensive deficiencies in our public systems across a big state like Minnesota seems a daunting task. But engineers approach a problem with facts, and the fact is we can begin to fix our infrastructure incrementally now and not wait until another system catastrophically fails. How do we do it? We put a priority on our infrastructure and invest in it.
Each community across the state can begin the process of inventorying problems, starting to fix the worst of them, and implementing long-term replacement, repair and maintenance plans.
What can you do? You can visit MN2050.org to learn more about the problems and solutions. And we all can demand our public officials, from our city councilors and county board members to our state and national representatives, think enough of our communities to pay attention to the systems we all depend on and allocate money to repair them.
We need to act now. If you are like me, you don’t want to leave a shameful legacy of neglect to your children and grandchildren. If you are a young worker, you should support fixing infrastructure problems now because you will pay for them. And the longer we wait the more it will cost.
Tom Eggum is a senior consultant in St. Paul with TKDA, an employee-owned engineering, architecture and planning firm with Minnesota offices in Duluth and St. Paul. He’s also the former city engineer for St. Paul and former director of St. Paul’s public works department. He wrote this for the News Tribune.