Friday, August 3, 2007

The State of US Infrastructure


The horrific bridge collapse that occurred in Minnesota this week is one of those unexplainable events that will change so many lives forever. My hopes and prayers go out to everyone affected by this accident, especially the friends and family of those killed. Words cannot describe the pain being felt today - Pain that will take a very long time to fade away.

The important question now being asked across America is “Are our nation’s bridges safe?” And the answer to that question is unsettling and down right scary. According to the most recent Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), our nation’s public infrastructure is in a crisis situation. For example, as of 2003, 27.1% of our nation’s bridges (160,570 in total) were classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (ASCE, 2005).

A structurally deficient bridge is defined as a bridge that is closed or restricted to light vehicles because of its deteriorated structural components. While not necessarily unsafe, these bridges must have limits for both speed and weight (ASCE, 2005). A functionally obsolete bridge is defined as a bridge that has older design features and, while it is not unsafe for all vehicles, it cannot safely accommodate current traffic volumes, and vehicle sizes and weights (ASCE, 2005).

Bridges in our country are critical elements of our highway transportation system. Everyday, our nation’s vehicles cross bridges close to 4 billion times (Purdy, 2005). But it is now unfortunately clear that the infrastructure of our country is deteriorating – and at an alarming rate.

Up until the bridge collapse in Minnesota, most Americans were unaware of the extent of the problem. Even worse, it is currently impossible to get information about the structural rating of a specific bridge. In Pennsylvania, The Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times newspaper formally requested specific rankings of structurally deficient bridges on the area under the State’s Right to Know Law. However, this request was formally denied by the PA State Department of Transportation (PennDOT), saying the information requested was not a public record as defined by law.

I find it extremely unsettling that our government knows this information and yet still refuses to make it public. How many of the victims from Thursday’s horrific accident in Minnesota would have chosen a different route across the mighty Mississippi River had they know the 35W bridge was deemed structurally deficient? I find it almost criminal to not disclose this information.

Clearly, the way our government is running our great country (literally into the ground) needs to change. Increased funding is now an absolute necessity to improve our nation’s infrastructure. However, these improvements will not be cheap. According to the National Bridge Investment Analysis System (NBIAS), an investment of $54.7 billion will be needed to improve just the bridge deficiencies based on the year 2000 data. The annual cost to eliminate deficiencies is estimated to be $9.4 billion per year over the next 20 years. And this amount would only address current bridge deficiencies.

Now is the time for our country to band together and demand that our government stop wasting tax payer money on pork barrel items (like the bridge to know where in Alaska) and start truly focusing on our nation’s critical problems. American’s should not be subject to fear and anxiety when they have to cross a bridge in their own country. But unfortunately, the tragic events of August 2, 2007 have changed that state of mind forever. The time is now to make things right, so future generations of hard working Americans will not have to experience the paid of another infrastructure tragedy that could have been avoided.

Sources:

The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card 2005. http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005.

Purdy, Diane, 2005. The Pennsylvania Local Roads Program: Condition of Bridges. Technical Information Sheet #119. University Park, PA.

1 comment:

Rob said...

In response to the tragedy in Minnesota President Bush spoke publicly about financial aid that would be awarded to clean-up efforts for bridge 35W. Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA immediately stepped in with financial aid to state and local officials. – (www.FEMA.gov, retrieved July 3, 2007)

With billions spent on the war in Iraq, Katrina victims still awaiting the aid they were promised, the nation’s food and water supply susceptible to bio-terrorism, a growing national debt and shrinking US dollar how are we going to pay for all of this? In a word taxes.

I write this with all due respect and sympathy to those who lost their lives on bridge 35W and to their families they leave behind, but consider this. John’s blog posses some interesting questions about money and happiness; about generational gaps; and a change in the socioeconomic landscape among the various generations as measured at similar life stages. Has the greatest generation had the greatest adverse impact on our nation? You could argue advances in medicine, technology and the likes, but consider the cost. The strain imposed on a nation due to an insatiable thirst for “stuff.”