When the Ohio Avenue bridge over the Penrose Canal was closed earlier this month, it was a big surprise and a big inconvenience for Atlantic City's Venice Park neighborhood. But it was only a small reminder of the sad state of many bridges in New Jersey.
The Ohio Avenue bridge, built in 1969, is expected to be closed for repairs for several months. The good news for the neighborhood is that there is a plan to fix the bridge. For many other substandard bridges in the state, there are no such plans.
A group called Transportation for America issued a report this month that found nearly 10 percent of the state's bridges are considered structurally deficient.
Most bridges were designed to last 50 years. The average bridge in New Jersey is 53 years old, and many are far older. Last year the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated it would take $7.7 billion over 10 years just to begin to address the problem in New Jersey.
The lack of a long-term strategy to repair and extend the life of bridges is part of a larger failing. We haven't kept up with the investment necessary to maintain our infrastructure - including bridges, roads, water systems and wastewater plants. Infrastructure investment isn't sexy, and it is easy for lawmakers to ignore it in favor of more immediate needs.
When it comes to fixing bridges, federal lawmakers didn't help last year when they passed a transportation funding bill that cut out funding for bridges that were not part of the national highway system.
Earlier this year, a group of senior officials from past Republican and Democratic administrations issued a report, "Facing Our Future: Infrastructure Investments Necessary for Economic Success," that made a strong case that investment in our infrastructure is necessary to drive economic growth. The spending pays off in more private investment, more jobs, more opportunities for state residents and more tax money for the state.
That report recommended raising New Jersey's gas tax, the third-lowest in the nation, to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund. Any tax increase - even in a tax that hasn't gone up in 21 years - will face opposition. But it's hard to imagine where the funds to pay for transportation upgrades, including bridges, will come from otherwise.