Big cities aren't the only places with rickety bridges, leaky sewers and treacherous roads. Many country communities are also in bad physical shape and lack funds to solve their problems.

Rural America has an added dilemma: an unprecedented spurt in population in the '70s that is pressing many small towns to build new sewers, roads and health care centers.

"In rural areas, the issue is the absence of investment. Things like sewers weren't built in the first place." says Dr. Ben Chinitz, who is surveying rural problems in the 50 states for the Farmers Home Administration.

The physical problems of America's small towns can cause inconvenience or even danger.

Four years ago, Sandra McNichol was driving over the Sebasticook Hartland, Maine, when the bridge collapsed. Her car was badly damaged but she was unhurt.

A fluke? According to Maine Deputy Transportation Commissioner Daniel Webster Jr., 404 of the 2,750 state-maintained bridges in Maine are at least 50 years old -- about the age for stepped-up repairs.

And across the country, the wobbly condition of bridges is a key concern of farmers who use heavy vehicles and rely on trucks to ship their produce. A bridge in poor condition means a long detour, wasting gasoline and time.

The FHA has supplied federal aid to communities with populations of 10,000 or less. Spokesman John Madding says in the past 20 years, the FHA has given $7.3 billion in loans and grants to nearly 10,000 rural communities for water and sewer projects, and another $1.2 billion in loans to build such projects as libraries.

But Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), who held hearings on the problems of rural areas in August, said more federal help is needed.