Friday, August 3, 2007

Safety Fixes For Nation's Bridges = 22 Weeks Of War Spending

Last October, USA Today said that the cost of upgrading all troubled bridges in the country was $63 billion.

The current cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $12 billion a month, which means all the country's bridges could be made safer by the end of January, 2008.

Think this won't emerge as a major presidential campaign issue?


Jim Bouman said...

This summer is the 51st anniversary of the establishment of the National Defense Interstate Highway System.

President Eisenhower was unable to sell the idea of a federally planned and standardized system of limited access highways without tagging it as essential to National Defense. (If he'd had the vision to call a companion bill the National Defense Health and Medical Care System, he probably could have got that passed, too. And wouldn't that have been a treat?)

I recall that the first summer of construction brought astonishing costs--including the "urban-renewal" phase (destroying a huge chunk of my neighborhood on the near west side of Cleveland) leading up to paving--mounting at the unimaginable rate of a "million dollars a mile".

Of course the bridges and the interchanges were the biggest concentration of expenses.

These fragile (yes, fragile, roadways and overpasses and bridges, given the pounding they take by both traffic and freeze-thaw weather cycles) Interstate Highways have been under nearly constant renovation, re-surfacing, re-design and expansion almost since the day after the first ribbon cutting in late 1957 on I-70 in Kansas.

The idea of "Interstate" highway funding was a delight to Texans, though I was surprised to hear I-35 cutting through Austin in 1961, just a mile from my dorm room, referred to as the Inter-Regional". The answer to my query was: "Interstate? We like it fine, but that name implies that it's passing through a State. And as everyone knows Texas isn't a state; it's the Republic of Texas".

Today, a cataclysmic failure of an Interstate Highway bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis focuses all of us on the simple and incontrovertible fact--continued reliance on "happy motoring" as the principal mode of moving people and goods throughout the US is a ticket to ever deepening national bankruptcy.

The process of bridge inspection and the clamor for assurances of safety will create an enormous demand for maintenance and replacement of the Interstate highway system bridges and overpasses. And the costs in just the next few years will be unbearable.

Time to rethink the whole thing and begin to devise ways the next twenty years can see the replacement of most of the Interstates with rail.

With each passing day I envision the boast of Ozymandias stenciled on freeway overpasses all over this country.


Has there ever been a bigger con job? Who thought up the idea of calling these things FREEWAYS?

citydem said...

Next to 35W is the 10th avenue bridge, completed in 1929. On the other side is a railroad bridge completed in 1887. Both are still standing while the collapsed 35W barely lasted 40 years. The Romans invented the keystone arch 2000 years ago and many of their bridges are still standing.When the Hoan 794 bridge cracked and sagged in 2001 It should have occurred to us then that there's something wrong with the Federally formatted Interstate designs. The DOT planners have way too much confidence in structural steel and reinforced concrete. They don't build redundancy in and they try to put too much traffic( particularly trucks) on too few roads- 35W carried 140,000 vehicles/day. BTW, MinnDOT reported no significant congestion in the two days without 35W. So called "freeways" don't belong in cities. They concentrate traffic and flood the urban grid at ramped intersections. Freeways function like channelized streams in the Everglades, undermining the ability of wetlands to absorb flooding. With the Interstate program now virtually broke and the borrowing capacity of the US government reduced by the war in Iraq, the Feds can't afford going on building this poor performing, unsustainable and increasingly dangerous form of infrastucture. It's time to rediscover the avenue, boulevard and street supplemented, of course, with transit, walking and biking.