I-5 bridge collapse: reflecting on our crumbling infrastructure

The I-5 bridge has collapsed in Washington and there are “vehicles and people [in] the water.” No word yet on casualties, and here’s hoping there are none.

Meanwhile, as bad as I hate to say we told you so, we told you so. Various S&R writers have written about various infrastructure issues in the past, and as the story in Washington unfolds, perhaps there’s some value in pointing our readers to some of the more relevant links.

Dr. Denny from July 2010: Drive with care over those 151,394 obsolete, unsafe bridges

Dr. Denny from August 2010: The nation’s 120,000 dams: Much more inspection, repair needed

Wufnik from last November, post-Sandy: Getting ready for the next disaster

If you’re in the mood read more, sift through our Infrastructure category.

Categories: Infrastructure

20 replies »

  1. Human error, not crumbling infrastructure. Over-sized load clipped the top of the bridge.

    • I’m wrestling with this. Yeah, I get that if you hit something hard enough it’s going to fall down. But have you ever heard of a truck knocking down a sound bridge before? It may have happened, but I’m not aware of it. I’m going to be interested in whether or not further investigation finds structural issues. Maybe it won’t. But a bridge that old in a nation where we have severe infrastructure issues – you can understand my curiosity.

  2. The last three Bridge issues, well, only three since the referenced articles, were all human error related. One had a ship driven into it, one was repaired badly then failed a short time after, and in this case you had an oversize load hit it at 55+mph. It wasn’t just a truck, there was plenty of mass on that oversize load and if you hit a truss bridge at a pivotal point it’s like a house of cards.

    And I sure do understand. There could well have been structural issues with the bridge preceding the event, but that will be in the records. Whilst repairs and maintenance are being carried out slowly, you can be sure every bridge has been checked by engineers for those faults. Would be interesting to see what comes out in the wash.

    Just glad no one was seriously hurt.

    • No one hurt – that’s the best news in all of this.

      And a ship hitting a bridge, yeah, that one I get. As I say, I’m not arguing that it isn’t possible.

      But do give that link about the bridges a look, if you haven’t already. In an age of deregulation and a refusal to fund infrastructure, we’re probably well advised to be extra diligent about what we’re being told. Being a bridge inspector has to be a terrible job because there’s not much way of correcting what you know is wrong.

      As I recall, btw, one of the bridges on the danger list is here in Denver. You know the Evans bridge across Santa Fe? Yep. I get nervous every time I go under that thing…..

  3. Sam I sifted the links and went looking on my own but I don’t see any reference to the bridge over Santa Fe at Evans being defective? That bridge was built in the 80’s during the expansion of Santa Fe and as such is barely middle aged and assuming proper maintenance by CDOT should still be in fully functional shape.

    If you were here prior to it’s completion you’ll remember what a death trap intersection that was and how many people were killed there both in car accidents and by trains when vehicles stopped on the tracks at the light on the East side of Santa Fe. I did see some comments about it “bouncing” but that of course like skyscrapers swaying is engineered in. Complete rigidity in any structure is a recipe for disaster.

    No argument from me on the necessity of maintaining infrastructure with tax dollars, it’s one of many positive things we want and expect our government to do.

  4. Thanks Sam, that Google maps file is a lot of fun, as much for the random pictures as the deficient bridges. My worst fear for infrastructure repair and improvement is that we as a society will keep growing in numbers but stop or severely slow down in the design and implementation of new transit avenues.

    Eisenhower started the interstate highway system in the 50’s and we’ve been expanding it along with ourselves ever since. In Denver for example, as our population has burgeoned so have the beltways and corridors around the city. A 20 minute trip still for the most part covers the same distance it did 20 years ago.

    Now however with the exception of limited area coverage lightrail, and a few private enterprise proposals like the Northwest Corridor we don’t have plans and funding in the works for continuing to expand the egress of a continually growing population. The I-70 corridor West of Denver and the I-25 corridor around Tech Center are both approaching gridlock condition and I assume that other growing areas around the country are suffering the same impending constriction.

    A shitty bridge that topples can take a few lives and pinch point traffic until it’s fixed, but a shitty transportation system significantly lowers the quality of life for everyone living within it’s bounds. I hate it that I can’t go to the mountains on a weekend anymore, but I’m not willing to spend 3 hours making that last 60 mile leg in snarled bumper to bumper traffic from Eisenhower Tunnel on in to town.

  5. In the Art of War Sun says that if you try to defend all places all will be weak. This is what’s happened with the US Government. You can’t be everything to all people and have it all work.