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Bridge work funding lapse big blow for local repairs

However you look at it, the Local System Bridge Program is important to Lincoln County.

     Under the state program that helps repair and replace deficient bridges, more than $10 million has flowed into Lincoln County since 1996. According to engineers’ data, those dollars have allowed the replacement of 55 bridges on local system roads and streets.

     Facing difficult budget decisions this year, though, state lawmakers opted against the bonding legislation that has funded the program. As a result, local bridge replacement plans are being set back by a year. Lincoln County supervisors are rightly concerned and have been lobbying for resumption of bridge program funding as soon as possible.

      With 303 bridges, Lincoln County has the third-highest number of bridges among the state’s 82 counties. Of those, 58 are rated as deficient and eligible for LSBP-funding help.

     As evidenced by the $10 million total, Lincoln County has been a prime beneficiary and user of LSBP funds. Helping the county in that regard is a formula that bases funding on the number of bridges and road mileage.

     Prior to this year, lawmakers had been bonding $20 million a year for the program. That equated to $80 million over a four-year board-of-supervisors term in office.

     On average, that would mean less than $1 million every four-year term for each of the state’s 82 counties. However, Lincoln County’s allotment for that span has been around $2.5 million.

     “We get a large share of the money,” said Ryan Holmes, one of the county’s engineers.

     LSBP’s impact on Lincoln County is magnified when two other factors, economic development and transportation safety, are considered.

     From the economic development standpoint, bridge work means dollars into the local economy. That can come in the form of a local construction company getting the bid to do the project, which means jobs for Lincoln County workers, or various kinds of tax revenue from out-of-town workers should a non-local company win the bid.

     Directly impacting local motorists, however, are the safety and convenience aspects of bridge replacement.

     County officials say they close bridges that cannot support a 6,000-pound weight limit.     

     The danger lies in heavier vehicles that cross bridges that can barely support that limit. What if the day comes when a bridge cannot hold up under traffic and collapses?

     Lincoln County School District Transportation Director Bruce Falvey said school bus routes are altered when there is a bridge with a posted weight limit under 30,000 pounds. That is the case for dozens of bridges in the county.

     Altered bus routes increase the time it takes to get children to and from school. There is a convenience element here, but also a question of how those extra minutes could impact student learning.

     Lincoln County is certainly not alone in the need for funding help for bridge repair and replacement. But given the number of bridges in the county and how successfully LSBP dollars have been used in the past, this year’s funding failure hits close to home.