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Editorial: Bridge work welcome

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opinion Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

An old saying advises "you get what you pay for" and that's certainly the case when it comes to maintaining and replacing roads and bridges.

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The announcement that replacement of the Minn. Hwy. 61 Bridge over the Mississippi River at Hastings has been moved up to 2010 is good news for area motorists. The nearly 60-year-old span is worrisome because its structure is similar to the I-35W Bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi near downtown Minneapolis last year. And an upgrade project on the former which was previously scheduled for this summer suggests some inevitable deterioration has occurred.

While Wisconsin certainly has its share of highway bridge concerns (even here in Pierce County, the heavily traveled Clifton Hollow Bridge along CTH F needs a makeover), Minnesota's infrastructure appears to be in more dire straits. The high gas tax Wisconsinites have paid over the years, especially burdensome with present fuel costs, could be contributing to an advantage America's Dairyland has over its neighbor-to-the-west in road network quality.

Prescott, a nearby border city with lots of commuters, has a definite interest in the availability of a reliable bridge at Hastings. The replacement project unveiled by the Minnesota Department of Transportation calls for a span triple the width of the existing one, expanded from two lanes to four. It sounds like a major improvement for drivers in that vicinity.

Meantime, the advanced timetable has resulted in a reduction of previous repairs on the bridge. Although the motoring public wouldn't want safety to be compromised, any shortening of construction activity should be appreciated. Then, when it's time to cope with traffic zones and delays during total replacement, the reward may help offset all the inconvenience.

What began with replacement plans as distant as 2023 quickly became a target of 2018, then 2015 and 2013, before the latest 2010 projection. That's said to have been made possible by the Minnesota State Legislature's passage of a comprehensive transportation bill earlier this year. The first gas tax increase in many years in the Gopher State likely didn't hurt.

So now that Minnesotans have joined the ranks of gas customers on a more equal tax footing, let's suggest their state government get busy with other revamps. There's plenty of work to be done in the Twin Cities, for example, where much of the interstate highway system is woefully behind the times, as is the availability of alternatives such as widespread light rail. Closer to home, more attention to the 50-year-old Eisenhower Bridge at Red Wing would be worthwhile.

After all, that extra "pain-at-the-pump" shouldn't be endured for nothing.

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