Bad bridges? Still far too few fixes

In the coming week, I’m going to drive about 1,200 miles through four states. During that journey, I’ll cross bridges over several significant rivers, including the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. The bridges I’ll cross are older than I am — and I’m no spring chicken.

I’ll drive over — and under — numerous highway overpasses. Most of them, too, will be older than I am. Since Aug. 1, 2007, I’m more aware of wondering about the condition of those bridges and overpasses that carry me to and from here and there. Are they safe?

A year ago, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during evening rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds more.

Politicians everywhere immediately called for (harrumph, harrumph) the inspection of and repairs to the nation’s thousands and thousands of deteriorating bridges.

One year later, how much has been accomplished to allay travelers’ fears of another bridge collapse? Diddley squat.

Robert Tanner, Steve Karnowski and Frank Bass of the Associated Press reported today “[a] year after the worst U.S. bridge collapse in a generation brought calls for immediate repairs to other spans, two of every three of the busiest problem bridges in each state — carrying nearly 40 million vehicles a day — have had no work beyond regular maintenance” [emphasis added]. The three newsmen reviewed “repairs on each state’s 20 most-traveled bridges with structural deficiencies found just 12 percent have been fixed” [emphasis added].

In another piece of exceptional reporting by the AP, reporters Tanner, Karnowski and Bass collected data on 1,020 bridges in 48 states. Here’s what they found:

• Sixty-four percent of the bridges received no work beyond regular maintenance, though most were targeted for some kind of future work.
• Twelve percent had their structural defects fixed — usually through a major rehabilitation or outright replacement.
• An additional 24 percent have seen a partial improvement, either through a short-term repair to temporarily address the defect or an ongoing project that is not yet complete. [emphasis added]

The worst states? “Indiana, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where work was conducted on only one of each state’s 20 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges,” they wrote. (I’ll be driving through New Hampshire next week. Pray for me, please.)

Well, surely Congress has stepped up to the plate over the past year, right? Nope. Despite having a few (although bad) bills filed almost immediately after the I-35W bridge collapsed, Congress has provided no substantial, effective leadership on immediate bridge remediation — or dealt significantly with any of the other significant needs in highways, sewerage, public drinking water, airports, seaports and other public facilities brought on by long-deferred maintenance.

Will Congress act soon? Nope. All 535 of our members of Congress, who are paid at minimum $169,000 a year by taxpayers, and many of whom are millionaires, are by law and tradition entering their annual sabbatical — the August recess. In short, these characters have earned their declining job approval rating, now at 13 percent, by doing zilch to address public infrastructure needs.

For the next month, instead of dealing with the public’s problems, your members of Congress are going to be out and about the district, meetin’ and greetin’ constituents, and acceptin’ campaign donations — hey, it’s an election year.

When Sen. Idiot or Rep. Bozo kisses your baby or shakes your hand, don’t let go. Pull ’em in close, look ’em in the eye, and say:

Fix things, goddamn it.

Then threaten to vote for his or her opponent. That might get some attention.

photo credit:

• Corrosion in gusset plate of I-35W bridge: Minneapolis Star Tribune

Read more about the issue:

• After the I-35W collapse: a project of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
• Pols fail to comprehend breadth of infrastructure crisis.
• Infrastructure? A problem? Your politicians are on it.
• Hagel-Dodd bill to fix infrastructure a limited vision of the task.

11 replies »

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  2. We just finished a round trip vacation from the coast of NC out to western MO and then back. A total of about 3,000 (including a slight detour because we didn’t have an atlas, but that’s a story for another time).

    Any way I was thinking the same thing about the bridges and then there was an article in USA Today to reinforce it. I know the problem is too big to be fixed in a year, hell it’s to beig to be DEFINED in a year. That being said I’d feel better if there was at least a plan. Loosley quoting Lincoln- if I was given a week to chop down a tree I’d spend the first 5 days sharpening my axe. We need to get working on a plan because the problem ain’t goin’ away and it ain’t gettin’ any easier.

  3. Just got back from riding the bike around town. I’m more scared of being left to die in a pot-hole than of the drivers.

    What ever happened to the biblical teaching: “save for a time of famine”? Must not be part of intelligent design.

  4. The last five sentences deserve a post of their own: How to Shake a Politician’s Hand.

  5. At least our troops have all the best armor. Oh … oops. Well, at least they’re getting the best medical attention afterwards. Oh … oops. Well, at least we’re taking care of the victims of our many recent natural disasters. Oops. Well, at least our future generations won’t have to pay for our mistakes. Oh … oops.

    The only reason anyone still votes for incumbents is because Thomas Jefferson was right: the average American is too stupid to vote responsibly.

  6. I was wondering when this issue will pop up in the election news cycle, but the more I think about it, this is a Congressional Issue, not an Executive one. Is there a committee that is responsible for the highway system? They need to be asking question of the Dept. of Transportation as well.

    Asking McCain or Obama right now would only get sappy rhetoric and empty promises. The people in the worse off states (PA was one according to USA Today) need to push the issue to their representatives in an public way to get the ball rolling.

  7. Bah, you think infrastructure on the state of US roads is a problem, go look at the state of DAMS! These structures hold millions of gallons of potential energy at bay throughout the country, and are under the inimitable force of GRAVITY, and there are a pitiful few inspectors actually looking at them each year to make sure that the Johnstown flood doesn’t happen to the tens of thousands of downstream communities.
    Go watch that documentary and tell me we are prepared to deal with this crises of infrastructure… that was a small dam…

    thanks, just my .02 cents worth.

  8. This issue hits home with me too. Where I live (Tarrytown, NY), the mighty Tappan Zee bridge spans the Hudson River at its widest point — three miles. I saw in the local paper the other day that its largest “crater,” as the paper called it, had just opened — three feet wide.

    Also, as I walk to work under a traffic bridge, I often see pieces of concrete that have fallen off its facade. Sometimes that area is roped off.