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Editorial State has come to a bridge it must cross

September 23, 2018

If your doctor recommended knee surgery, would you hold off until you fall?

You might, of course, depending on the degree of pain.

In considering the condition of Connecticut bridges, heart surgery might be a more fitting comparison.

Our bridges are the lifeblood of the state economy. They carry workers, schoolchildren and an estimated $489 billion in goods annually.

A new report from TRIP, a national transportation research group, reveals many of our bridges are “structurally deficient.” For commuters, that news is no more surprising than knee pain is for a jogger.

Using information provided by the Department of Transportation, TRIP cites more than 300 of Connecticut’s 4,254 bridges as “structurally deficient.”

It’s unlikely any motorists will pump the brakes when hearing the news, as they have no alternate routes. It’s not like our GPS warns of a wobbly bridge on the horizon.

The remedy (surprise!) is more money. The problem (no surprise) is that the state can’t afford to update the spans.

Which serves as a cue to the usual political sound bites.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, reliably called on President Donald Trump, who once traversed these roads a Greenwich resident, as needing to support federal funds.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, recited her mantra that “the public does not want to pay more taxes.” No, we don’t, but to be clear, we don’t want our bridges to collapse either. As a co-chair of the state transportation committee, Boucher doesn’t support tolls, instead campaigning for more Republicans so the state can be run more efficiently.

Even TRIP’s rhetoric must be taken with a grain of corrosive road salt. They are sponsored by insurance companies and highway construction firms that stand to gain from bridge work. “Making needed improvements to Connecticut’s bridges could provide a significant boost to the state’s economy ...,” the report reasons.

Sixty-one of Fairfield County’s 838 bridges were deemed deficient, compared with 60 of 870 in New Haven County. You know the most heavily trafficked ones in question, starting with the Interstate-95 overpass at Hendricks Avenue in Norwalk, followed by the Byram River bridge in Greenwich at the state line. West Haven’s Metro-North overpass of I-95 at First Avenue tops the New Haven County countdown.

Until the day comes when goods can be transported wirelessly, Connecticut will remain a bridge itself, linking commerce between New York and Boston.

Lawmakers shouldn’t need this report. They — and their predecessors — got the cautionary warning 35 years ago when the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich collapsed, killing three motorists.

More telecommuting and alternate methods of transporting freight would help, but these bridges will fall if neglected. The DOT says the percentage of deficient state bridges has dropped from 8.6 percent in 2012 to 5.2 percent in 2017. That suggests progress, but Connecticut needs to drive that figure closer to zero.

Not listening to the diagnosis could bring the state to its knees.

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