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Missouri's dangerous bridges will eventually go away

Ever wonder how many highway bridges exist in Missouri? Unless you work for the Missouri Department of Transportation, or one of their contractors, you probably haven't. While there are a few bridges that because of their history or design, like the Clark Bridge at West Alton, or the historic Eads Bridge, in St. Louis, most drivers cross thousands of bridges every day and never notice.

Until they are not there. While bridge collapses are relatively rare, when one collapses, like the I-35W bridge in Minnesota did in 2006, it makes headlines. Unfortunately, such collapses could become less rare, and car accidents involving deteriorating and failing structures could increase.

Missouri has the dubious distinction of being one of the top states for "structurally deficient" bridges. The state is home to more than 3,300 of these bridges. While not in immediate danger of collapse, they are cause for concern.

"Structurally deficient" means that a major element of a bridge, such as the deck or supports fails to meet a threshold of recommended rating. If a bridge falls too low on these measures, it can be declared unsafe and closed.

But for most, it means they can be repaired. However, that takes money and money means taxes. States like Missouri have likely deferred maintenance to cut costs and reduce MoDOT's budget, but weather and wear-and-tear are inexorable. They never stop. If repairs are put off too long, gravity will win and the bridge will collapse.

How many bridges are there in Missouri? 24,385 and a quarter of them are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Obsolete means while still safe, they are too small or narrow to handle modern traffic safety. They too, need to be replaced.

If we ignore them long enough, the problem will go away. One collapse at a time.

Washingtonpost.com, "Mapping America's most dangerous bridges," Christopher Ingraham, February 4, 2015

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