GOV. RENDELL underscored the cost of the war in Iraq - and the urgency for ending it soon - when he announced the price tag for rebuilding our country's dangerously deficient bridges.

Earlier this week, he released a study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that put the cost of national infrastructure repair at $140 billion.

That represents a little over a year's worth of Iraq war costs to the United States.

It also represents a serious problem for an economy that's been hit hard by mortgage foreclosures, layoffs and food-price jumps. The nearly 40 percent leap in gas prices - which have slowly slipped to just under $4 a gallon - has forced us to rearrange lives once centered on the convenience of our cars.

Even a year ago, the idea of paying for such repairs using revenues from the gas tax seemed feasible. But since gas consumption has dropped 2.5 percent in the first six months of the year, according to the Energy Information Administration, that means that those revenues are no longer a safe bet. The less we drive, the less tax revenue there is for the feds to dole out.

When Rendell pitched Act 44, the transportation-funding bill passed last year, he also suggested a few revenue-generating ideas to help pay for it. But a special tax on oil-company profits went nowhere. The idea to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike - which one company wants to do for $12.8 billion - faces opposition. And the conversion of Interstate 80 to a toll road awaits a ruling from the Federal Highway Administration. Two state representatives in the highway's district continue to fight the idea, even going as far as to proposing that no toll revenue pay for Philadelphia public transportation.

Rendell says that the federal government should be coming up with the $140 billion to fix the 150,000 bridges across the country. That's not likely. But this is a crisis.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials suggests more tolls - something Rendell supports - road-user fees, bonds or private investments, along with a more systematic maintenance of bridges.

We aren't optimistic that creative or viable solutions to the nation's infrastructure problems are coming anytime soon.

It's a shame that in our haste to "rebuild Iraq" we're letting our own country deteriorate. *