What began as a symbolic and lasting expression of love has devolved into a sad commentary on the state of America, and provides an exclamation point to the issue of our crumbling infrastructure.

Steve Hendrix wrote in a column in the Washington Post last week about how government workers are cutting locks off of Key Bridge and other places where they are showing up. Putting engraved padlocks onto bridges and fences, Hendrix wrote, has long been a thing in Europe.


"But the love hasn't been shared by municipal authorities who say the accumulated weight of countless love locks adds up to a public hazard," Hendrix wrote. "In Paris last summer, part of a bridge railing collapsed under an accretion of padlocks as thick as metallic shrubbery along the walkway. In New York, the transportation department has an ongoing removal campaign against thousands of locks appearing on city bridges."

Later in his column, Hendrix writes, "Citing the risk to walkers and cars — as well as the strain on historic ironwork — Brooklyn Bridge workers have cut off more than 9,000 padlocks since this past winter."

OK, I'll give you that the weight of 9,000 locks would be a considerable burden on a lot of structures. And we are talking about railings and fences here, not the framework which holds the structures up for the tons of traffic that crosses these bridges every day. But I think the situation is still illustrative of the poor condition that a lot of our infrastructure is in.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, in their 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, gave the county's infrastructure a grade of D-plus and said that a $30.6 trillion investment is needed by 2020.

The report rates transit, roads, public water and sewer, rail, inland waters, bridges, dams and drinking water, among other items. Most received grades of D or below, although our handling of solid waste rated a B-, the only B grade in the 16 different categories. There were no A grades.

In the category of bridges, which received a grade of C-, the report notes, "Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation's 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation's bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation's 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation's bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently."

Given those bleak statistics, it isn't a great leap to suggest that too many people putting "Locks of Love" on bridges might accelerate the problem and bring some of these aging structures down.

After months of sparring, Congress just before it adjourned for its summer break passed a bill to fund transportation projects through next May. The Senate, just hours before the federal government was to cut payments to states, passed a House version of the bill and sent it to the president. Like everything else done by Congress, the measure is only a short-term stop-gap measure. It does nothing to address the long-term problems or need for considerable investment that is outlined in the ASCE report. The $10.8 billion spending bill, in fact, merely moves the problem beyond the next election, and successfully navigating themselves through one election cycle into the next is the primary function of Congress.

Talk about your social safety net.

We probably need something akin to Franklin D. Roosevelt's second "New Deal" program to get this country operating on all cylinders again.

Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration provided jobs for the unemployed, and that is where we got a lot of our parks, highways and schools. Add water treatment plants, rail line improvements and municipal infrastructure projects to the plan and a 2014 version might be just what this country needs. Conservatives would love it because rather than expanding welfare programs, people could work on these projects for pay. Liberals would love it because it would improve our quality of life in many different areas and it would provide opportunity for workers.

Alternatively, we could continue to pay an army of state and federal workers to wander along bridges in the nation, cutting off locks so that the weight doesn't bring the structures down. Yeah, that makes much more sense.

Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at