Today is the one year anniversary of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the wikipedia article. Most of the relevant info is there.
The Interstate bridge collapsed during evening rush hour on August 1, 2007. Thirteen people died and approximately 100 were injured. The reason for the catastrophic failure of the bridge has not been determined precisely, but early findings by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) pointed at an original design flaw in the Gusset Plates (details here).
This tragedy has underscored a problem that the U.S. is facing: aging infrastructure requires maintenance or replacement. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card, the price of maintaining and upgrading the United States public infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, utlilities, harbors, buildings and everything else) at an adequate level is approximately $1.7 trillion over five years (that’s $340 billion annually). Without a continued investment you run into issues such as degrading roadways, leaking sewage systems, inadequate water supplies, congested airports, etc. It is a fact that this nation continues to grow and the infrastructure representing its nerves and veins must grow with it. Look at Singapore and Manila. Those two cities are so overwhelmed by traffic congestion (to take only one example from transportation) that almost all deliveries from the ports occur at night; the trucks simply cannot move during the day. I’d hate to see that happen to Baltimore, or Savannah, or Long Beach.
$340 billion is a very big number, but let’s remember that Congress fell all over itself to send $200 million to Minnesota to replace the I-35W bridge. If they can snap-count a number that big, I think it’s reasonable to find some additional funding on an annual basis to assist the states in replacing and maintaining the existing infrastructure. 27% of the nation’s bridges are currently rated as strucutrally deficient as of 2005 (which does not mean in imminent danger of collapse, so don’t worry too much) which is an improvement from several years previously, but is too high. Unfortunately, the only way to improve that number is through funding because bridges need constant maintenance and eventual replacement to keep up with the growing traffic demand.
Do I have a proposed solution? I do not. I am not a finance geek or a politician. I, along with many others in my field, see a looming problem which if unaddressed will only lead to bigger problems in the future.
So, remember the I-35W collapse. While it apparently wasn’t directly caused by insufficient funding for maintenance, it is a bellwhether for problems to come.