One of the basic obligations of government at all levels is to ensure safety on roadways.

When people drive down a street or over a bridge, they should be confident the asphalt, steel and whatever else beneath their vehicles is up to the challenge.

That expectation cannot be met if transportation infrastructure is not maintained and, when necessary, repaired.

And that takes money.

We agree with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, in his insistence roads and bridges should not fall victim to federal budget cuts.

In a time of fiscal crisis on the federal as well as state level, cutting road and bridge expenditures might seem an invisible, pain-free way to save.

Yet the risk is too great.

As Congressman Murphy pointed out during a recent visit to New Milford, Connecticut enjoys a high rate of return -- in federal transportation funding -- on gas tax revenue the state sends to Washington.

As he also noted, however, Connecticut has many ancient bridges.

According to the congressman, Veterans Memorial Bridge in New Milford is among more than 1,700 in the state considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

When bridges are left unattended for too long, tragic things can happen.

Fairfield County experienced a nightmare in 1983 with the deadly collapse of the Mianus River Bridge, an elevated stretch of Interstate 95 in Greenwich.

We do not imply another such accident is imminent -- only that it is important transportation infrastructure not be allowed to fall into disrepair.

Cynics might consider the presence of construction union representatives at Congressman Murphy's New Milford appearance to be self-serving.

Yet stable or increased funding for bridge work would, in fact, have the substantial added benefit of putting people back to work -- that is also good for everyone.

On a more basic level, however, public safety is simply too fundamental to be slighted.