NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 3, 2007

The spectacular collapse Wednesday of a 40-year-old bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis could be the event that moves concern about America's "crumbling infrastructure" beyond the usual blue-ribbon commission and magazine cover stories, says the Wall Street Journal.

Following the 2005 collapse of levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and the recent rupture of a steam pipe in New York, the demise of the Interstate 35W bridge is likely to become Exhibit A in the effort to improve infrastructure quality:

  • It was officially deemed "structurally deficient" by state inspectors in 1990; more than 70,000 bridges across the country bear that designation.
  • It doesn't necessarily mean the spans are unsafe but that they need additional monitoring, maintenance or repair work.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers says 25 percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete.

"If there is a silver lining to all of this, it will be the renewed focus on the enormous needs of our transportation infrastructure system," says Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  "We owe it to the memories of those who died to react productively and thoughtfully to this tragedy by renewing our roads, rails, waterways, ports and aviation systems."

  • In its latest report card, the civil engineering society gave the nation's infrastructure a "D"; bridges received one of the highest grades at "C."
  • It said the nation must spend $1.6 trillion over the next five years to meet its needs.

The bridge failure could also focus attention on the sometimes confusing relationships between local, state and federal regulators, which some say leads to problems going unfixed.  It might also recharge a debate over whether private investment should be embraced to fill states' funding gaps, says the Journal.

Source: Christopher Conkey, Daniel Machalaba and Douglas Belkin, "Bridge Collapse Could Spur Infrastructure Fixes," Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007.

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