Aug 6, 2007
A crowded interstate highway bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1. At this writing, five are known dead, with many more still missing.
This “Erector Set” bridge was dangerous when it was built in 1967, but was “grandfathered in” under outmoded construction standards. Since at least 1990, engineers have always rated it “structurally deficient.” But government officials and their appointees claimed that replacement would be too expensive. So they rolled the dice and put off the work that should have been done.
It’s too bad the dice-rollers weren’t on that bridge where they let others die.
This bridge wasn’t very special. There are 756 others just like it across the country.
But this old bridge is the least of the problems. The American Society of Civil Engineers has for years warned of the decay of all of the structures society relies on to function. Not only are twenty-seven% of the nation’s bridges, 77,000 of them, rated “structurally deficient” – the same rating as the bridge that fell. The ASCE grades the nation’s entire infrastructure as D! An enormous part of the infrastructure we depend on – highways, railways, dams, bridges, levees, electrical structure, sewer systems, water systems – are aged long past their design life. And they carry much more load – truck weight, sewage, water, or power – than they were ever designed for.
The collapsed bridge is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole infrastructure is composed of hundreds of disasters waiting to happen.
If this is so well known, why hasn’t it been fixed? Why isn’t there a reconstruction program?
Money. They tell us there’s not enough.
What would it cost? 1.6 trillion dollars. A lot of money, yes, but just about what the government will spend making war on Iraq and Afghanistan.
This society has accumulated wealth far, far beyond what anyone would have dreamed of in 1967, when the Minneapolis bridge was built.
But the wealth is concentrated at the topmost levels and increases there by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, for a supposed “lack of funds,” a bridge falls here, a steam line explodes there, city water mains periodically burst, every slight storm brings a power outage, storm sewers overflow and even levees fail.
The labor of the entire society produces its wealth. That wealth should be put to work, serving the interests of the entire society.