The collapse of the Minneapolis I-35W bridge has raised the debate about crumbling bridges, roads and highways in many parts of the country.

In what former long-time Chinook Observer reporter Nancy Butterfield used to call "rumor patrol," we last week looked into a free-floating allegation that the Astoria-Megler Bridge was built by the same contractor as the failed bridge over the Mississippi.

Happily, this is not true. Our bridge and the one in Minneapolis appear to have little more in common than the fact both were completed in the mid-1960s.

The Astoria Bridge was built by Delong Corporation, Raymond International and U.S. Steel and opened in 1966. The on-line reference Wikipedia reports concerning the I-35W bridge: "The construction contracts, worth in total more than $5.2 million at the time, went to Hurcon Inc. and Industrial Construction Company (the latter having since gone out of business), with Industrial Construction Company building the steel trusses and deck. Construction began in 1964 and the bridge opened to traffic in 1967."

But we must not be complacent about the safety of the Astoria-Megler Bridge or the many other bridges on which we rely in our watery corner of the Pacific Northwest.

While Washington state has a generally good record of taking care of vital transportation infrastructure, some major structures including Seattle's waterfront viaduct are in dire need of earthquake-proofing. Locally, the state has been quite responsible in upgrading most highway bridges and the highways themselves.

The same cannot be said of Oregon, where the tax system has been broken for decades. This leads to a sorry pattern of penny-pinching when it comes to crucial transportation maintenance and improvements.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge is primarily Oregon's responsibility. To its credit, Oregon explicitly recognized this fact in a recent policy planning document that stressed the need to have funds on hand to meet contractual obligations with Washington over the bridge. This commitment needs constant attention.

Former Observer Publisher Wayne O'Neil, for one, worried that Oregon would neglect its duties once the toll was removed. While no one misses the toll, his concern was valid.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has announced a top priority for the 2009 legislative session - a comprehensive strategy for transportation infrastructure. His plan would build on the $3 billion that lawmakers allocated in 2003 for bridges, roads and highway work.

Anna Richter Taylor, Gov. Kulongoski's communications director, put the issue in sharper focus when she said the Minnesota bridge collapse "is a tragedy, but it is a wake-up call" for states.

No truer words were ever said.

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