A year later, many South Carolina bridges still suck. We look at why.

Image by Flickr user Stylus Happenstance The old Cooper River Bridges felt decidedly unsafe, but we got a fancy new one, thanks in part to our explosive growth. Many other bridges aren't so lucky.

One year after 13 people lost their lives in the infamous Minneapolis bridge collapse, a solution to our country's aging infrastructure is not close. And South Carolina is perched high on the list of those ailing most. Some $140 billion would be needed to fix up the 1-in-4 ailing bridges in the country, and some $2.9 billion would be needed in South Carolina alone. The Minneapolis Star Tribune did some excellent reporting on the national situation of bridges:

The response from Congress so far: A House bill passed last week dedicating $1 billion for bridge maintenance and inspections -- no action yet from the Senate, although there has been no shortage of proposals. Bridge
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The August 1, 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse served as a horrific call to action. That call seems to have dissipated much.Congress also is embarking on legislation to succeed the last major roads bill, passed in 2005; some say the result could be the most important overhaul of the transportation system since the dawn of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

That paralysis to act at the federal is matched at the lower level, particularly in South Carolina, as The Associated Press reports:

An Associated Press review of repairs on each state's 20 most-traveled bridges with structural deficiencies found just 12 percent have been fixed. In most states, the most common approach was to plan for repairs later rather than fix problems now. ... The worst were Indiana, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where work was conducted on only [5 percent] of each state's 20 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges.

And our area's roads have certainly received their fair share of heat for being in poor shape, The Post and Courier reported last August on the 20 worst bridges in the metro area:

The area's worst bridges include one of the most scenic spans in the state — the Ben Sawyer swing bridge to Sullivan's Island — and some that motorists probably barely notice, such as a series of marsh bridges on U.S. Highway 17 south of Charleston. But all have several things in common: At least one major component — the deck, the piers, the steel or concrete superstructure — is in such poor condition that engineers say the bridge needs major work or should be replaced altogether.

Fortunately for us in the Charleston area, our old bridges are getting replaced and often expanded for our explosive growth. But it's hard to point our collective finger of blame at the S.C. Department of Transportation as they receive the lowest funding per mile in the nation. The national average is $128,538 per mile, South Carolina spends $31,685 per mile. Ouch. And it can't help that a large portion of the South Carolina recieves more of its funding than most states from motor fuel taxes. Not only are people driving less (thus buying less gas), but S.C. has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation. But with record-high gas prices and a struggling economy tax hikes of any kind are unpopular, even to keep cars from splashing into the water. So, that's why toll roads could be coming to South Carolina's interstates soon. Suddenly I'm doubly glad to be able to bike to work.

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