To see why people lose trust in government, take a look at the bridge the S.C. Department of Transportation has decided to build where Highway 41 crosses the Wando River. It's going to be 55 feet tall.
Citizens have overwhelmingly stated their preference for a 35-foot bridge that is less expensive, perfectly adequate and more suitable for the site.
Elected officials, including Congressman Mark Sanford, R-S.C., all of Mount Pleasant Town Council, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, S.C. Sen Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, and Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers, have gone to bat for the 35-foot bridge.
On the other hand, just 30 of those who responded anonymously to a survey by the DOT asked for a 55-foot bridge. And the survey did not include information about costs.
Rep. Sanford finds the situation "wildly frustrating" and says taxpayers do too.
"This is a microcosm of why people are so frustrated, distrusting and turned off by government these days," he tells us.
"In a democracy, the majority is supposed to rule. ... In this case, bureaucrats are ruling."
And what people can expect is a bridge that is taller than is necessary for navigational needs. Just five miles above the bridge site, the Wando ends. And in that five-mile area, boats are not allowed to have toilets. That means most boats large enough to require more than 35 feet clearance are going to be kept elsewhere.
Rep. Sanford said he got involved in this issue because he heard from constituents that it was important to them.
"They have pride of place," he says. "They're not going for the default, for the ordinary. That attitude is what has made [the Lowcountry] unique. We're not like every other place."
Bureaucrats, on the other hand, he says, want to take the safest course.
In the case of the bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard has indicated to the DOT that a 55-foot bridge is fine. But Coast Guard officials told Mr. Sanford that, while there is no guarantee it would be approved, they would consider a 35-foot bridge instead if asked to.
It's true that, if S.C. DOT's request to build a smaller span were rejected, the application process would have to start over on behalf of a larger bridge.
But it's a risk worth taking in hopes of getting the best bridge for the spot - at a better price.
Good design doesn't usually happen on the first try. In this case, the plans were on their way to completion when bicycle advocates discovered the bridge had no bike lanes. Fortunately, they have been added.
The design can - and should - be changed further.
Unfortunately, questions that thousands of citizens and a significant number of elected officials have about the bridge's size have not been satisfactorily resolved.
But the question of why citizens often lose faith in government has been answered all too clearly.
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