Saving America – Page 2

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hard, his feet to the brakes and his back against the seat. He remembers nothing after that.

In the days following the disaster, we all learned, to our even greater horror, that this bridge collapse didn’t just “happen.” The I-35W bridge had been classified as “structurally deficient” for seventeen years preceding the collapse. Seventeen unbelievable years it had been on a list. But state officials, including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, asserted that this classification did not indicate an imminent structural failure. Clearly, for sixteen years it wasn’t imminent, but on August 1, it became pretty darn imminent. Structurally deficient “doesn’t necessarily mean a bridge is unsafe or in need of replacement,” Pawlenty said in a press conference two days after the accident, “but I think anybody who looks at the national picture . . . and says we don’t have a problem would be naive.” It might have been helpful had the governor held that news conference on July 31.

What happened to Ebling and what could have happened to me should deeply concern you. Every day, tens of millions of people drive across bridges that our government has labeled “structurally deficient” and done nothing about— other than type it on a list and stuff it in a report to gather dust. In 2007, about a quarter of the roughly 600,000 bridges in the United States were considered by the Department of Transportation to be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In 2009, the “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” published every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), claimed that while $10.5 billion was being spent annually on bridge maintenance and construction, that spending wasn’t getting the job done. ASCE recommended that in order to substantially improve bridge conditions, an annual investment of $17 billion was required.

In 2012, ASCE president Andrew Herrmann pointed out that America’s already thorough bridge inspection program is undermined by the federal government’s failure to spend enough on updating and maintaining infrastructure. “Congress basically lacks the courage to do what is needed to raise the funds,” Herrmann told ABC News. “Bridges require maintenance, and maintenance requires funding. . . . Politicians like to show up and cut a ribbon on a brand new bridge, but they don’t like to show up and applaud a new paint job that may increase the life of a bridge.” Next Page