Bridge inspectors were sent out nationwide following the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis last August.

The deteriorating quality of bridges and overpasses from coast to coast was suddenly big and very scary news — nearly as frightening as the projected costs to bring them all up to date.

Right now, travelers are hampered by a spate of airplane groundings and subsequent flight cancellations by airlines that have fallen behind on their mandated inspections. It's not heartwarming news, since much of America's air fleet is aging, replacements deferred as manufacturers work on developing more fuel-efficient, slim-bodied models. But if the planes are not being inspected in a timely fashion, how can we be confident problems are being repaired?

Our highway system is overtaxed and badly crowded, too. The projected price tag on a rework — not to mention the inconvenience — makes it easy to just wish the problem would go away.

How often have we heard about expensive updates that are desperately needed by our air traffic control system? Or the long-term inadequacy of our electricity and natural gas supply and the need to develop some alternative fuel sources?

The good news just seems to keep on coming.

The Associated Press on Tuesday carried an interesting story about the crumbling of the nation's water systems, long known and almost willfully ignored. North of New York City, a country road is now sided by a newly sprouted stream and good-size marsh that are drawing Looky Lous who think they're drinking from a mysterious natural wonder. That wonder's name is "Neglect."

The report says a tunnel that's supposed to carry drinking water from a reservoir to the Big Apple has sprung a leak — reportedly 36 million gallons a day. We've seen similar incidents elsewhere, as well: Remember the burst steam pipe in New York and the broken water main in Chicago? Closer to home, a pipe in Denver ruptured and trashed a three-lane segment of highway recently. There are dozens of reports of significant breaches and wasted water.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it will cost public utilities more than $277 billion over the next 20 years to fix and improve drinking water systems — a price tag that industry engineers tell AP is way too low.

Costs — and delay just makes them bigger — are always borne by John and Jane Doe, consumer or taxpayer.

It's all disturbing, but it should not be a surprise to a society that has become very reactive, rather than proactive. We seem to get up every morning and put on our rose-colored glasses. Barring an in-our-face disaster, we ignore the fundamentals we rely on, which need us to return the favor. And policymakers and the public are jointly complicit.

Salt Lake voters narrowly decided recently that they didn't want to pay to update public safety facilities for police and fire, despite a dramatic demonstration of how seriously dilapidated the existing facility in downtown Salt Lake City is.

I understand the sentiment. Ask me for higher taxes or to pay more for goods and my instinct is to say you can't have it — not because I'm selfish, but because so much of my money is already spirited away by "representatives" who don't make the decisions I would make were I spending my dollars myself.

The truth is, we have to get a handle on infrastructure issues before they bury us, perhaps literally. And, in steps, it's doable. We just need to stop funding special interests and look after public interests for a while.

Deseret Morning News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]