Thirty-seven bridges in southwestern Michigan are structurally deficient. Another 35 area bridges are functionally obsolete.
How many of them do you drive over in a given day?
Southwestern Michigan receives about $16 million a year to repair, maintain and replace bridges. Local transportation officials say this area could use $4 million to $8 million more each year to properly care for bridges and replace them before they become unsafe.
And this region is certainly not alone. Throughout the state of Michigan, deficient bridges span interstates, rivers and railroad tracks.
The collapse of a freeway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis last August, a rush-hour accident in which 13 people died and scores more were injured, brought to the nation's attention the abysmal state of America's aging infrastructure.
And it helped reignite debate in Lansing over whether it's time to increase Michigan's gasoline tax to increase funding for highway and bridge construction, maintenance and replacement.
The Michigan Transportation Team -- a coalition of road builders, labor unions and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce -- has been lobbying the state government for a 9-cent increase in the state gasoline tax that the MTT would like to have in place by the end of the year.
The coalition, attempting to get the Legislature's attention, has been emphasizing the employment aspect of road and bridge repair. Mike Nystrom of the Infrastructure and Transportation Association says that more than 12,000 road jobs are being lost because of inadequate transportation funding.
But we are just as concerned, if not more so, about whether safety is being compromised by insufficient funding for transportation infrastructure.
Of course, there is never a good time for the Legislature and governor to raise taxes.
Lawmakers may be a bit gun-shy right now, waiting for the fallout -- including recalls -- that is expected in the wake of state income tax and expanded sales taxes approved by the Legislature and governor earlier this month.
Plus, the price of gasoline, which is already taxed at 19 cents a gallon, is on the way up again, hitting motorists in their pockets.
But there is never a good time for another catastrophic bridge collapse like the one in Minneapolis either. Why not take steps to prevent such tragedies?
Earlier this year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said raising the state's gasoline tax was not a priority for her, as long as the Legislature was dithering over finding a replacement to the state Single Business Tax and over how to plug an anticipated $1.75 billion deficit in the 2007-08 budget.
Those issues have been resolved, for the most part.
Keeping public infrastructure safe is one of the most basic responsibilities of government. The issue of crumbling bridges and overburdened roads in Michigan needs to be addressed -- and it needs to be addressed now.