August 2, 2007

It Shouldn't Happen Anywhere

National Review extended a kind invitation for an essay about the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and they have already published it on their web site. "Into The River" looks at the dynamics of the collapse here in Minnesota and looks at the road ahead:

Nevertheless, Minnesotans already want to know how the unthinkable happened to one of its most critical traffic structures. The power of the Digital Age started showing itself in the first hours of the tragedy. News organizations found reports on prior bridge inspections on the Internet, one of which noted the bridge “has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and floor truss system.” Other reports came to light shortly afterwards, including more recent inspections that classified the bridge as “structurally deficient.”

State officials quickly clarified that engineers didn’t recommend any immediate action as part of those inspections, but the issue will not disappear quietly. Minnesotans have had a long-running debate over infrastructure funding. Two former Minnesota transportation officials appeared on local television to decry the neglect towards these systems over the last few years. The debate had mostly remained in the hallways of the capital, but we can expect a big political fight over this now, one that will involve tax policy and budget control as well.

As I wrote, this debate has mostly confined itself to the political class in Minnesota, but watch for a big debate about it now -- and not just here. With 80,000 American bridges classified as structurally deficient, as was the one that collapsed here, every state will have to answer for its infrastructure maintenance ... and Minnesota actually was better than most in that regard before this catastrophe.

Please read the entire essay, and let National Review know what you think.

UPDATE: Let's get some links going to local bloggers today:

  • King Banaian takes a look at the new prominence of the Practice Freeway. [Correction: it was his co-blogger, Janet. Sorry!]
  • Fraters Libertas reports on an eyewitness account from one of our MOB pals.
  • Gary Gross covers today's press conference and notes how effective Minnesota has been in maintaining its transportation infrastructure.
  • Our good friend Flash from Centrisity has photos from the scene.
  • My partner Mitch remembers the bridge and the beautiful view it afforded, even if it wasn't the most beautiful of bridges.
  • Another MOB blogger, Muzzy, tells his personal story about the collapse.
  • Not exactly local, but Jazz and Ron at Middle Earth Journal -- occasional and appreciated commenters here at CQ -- take their normally clearheaded view of the politicization that appears to have already started.
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    Comments (19)

    Posted by vet66 | August 2, 2007 12:11 PM

    I believe additional consideration should be given to exposed support structures in areas of extreme cold and temperature variations over a 24 hour period.

    I also don't doubt that vibrations from the trains that run under the bridge contributed extra wear and tear beyond that predicted by increased vehicle traffic truck and otherwise.

    A tragedy that will not go quietly into the night.

    Posted by Geoffrey Alden | August 2, 2007 12:29 PM

    I have two thoughts on the bridge. The first is that suspended walkway collapse in Kansas City (I think) several years ago. The problem wasn't materials strnegth but an overly innovative design. Materials inspection wouldn't, or didn't, catch the problem.

    The second is that it sounds as if the bridge was built with a quite long span, and there may have been some innovations at that time to handle that requirement.

    Posted by Lazarus Long | August 2, 2007 12:35 PM

    Let's see....... Bridge maintenance or universal health care...Bridge maintenance or universal health care...Bridge maintenance or universal health care... Hmmm, what do do?

    Posted by James I. Hymas | August 2, 2007 1:18 PM

    Lazarus Long: Bridge maintenance or universal health care...Bridge maintenance or universal health care...Bridge maintenance or universal health care... Hmmm, what do do?

    Cut taxes, of course!

    No politician likes spending money on maintenance. Maintenance isn't sexy. You get your picture in the paper at ribbon cutting ceremonies for new public works, not for shutting down a bridge or highway for six months in order to spend a lot of money giving the public what they thought they already had anyway.

    I've read some essays on this with respect to Britain. The Victorians were great builders - railroad stations, public buildings, ornamental statuary ... it was all good solid stuff. And to a large extent, Britain's been living off the investment for the past hundred years.

    A sidewalk should last 50 years, I am told. That even sounds a bit conservative to me - I mean, it's just a slab of concrete flat on the ground, right? In Toronto, we can't even keep up with maintenance of the sidewalk system. Roads are worse. To save a few dollars they put off resurfacing. Trouble is, this advances the date for re-building ... but hey, as long as the re-building date is after the next election, we won't have to endure raised taxes, right?

    I'm no great friend of high taxes, but I'm not a big fan of boneheaded tax cuts and false economies either. Tell me what it costs to keep things in good repair and send me a bill.

    Posted by Gary Gross | August 2, 2007 1:21 PM

    Minnesota's inspection system, like its highway system, is one of the best in the nation.

    Posted by starfleet_dude | August 2, 2007 1:25 PM

    Transportation funding in Minnesota isn't an issue that's been confined to the political class though, as in last fall's elections there was a constitutional amendment which easily passed that dedicated sales taxes from motor vehicle sales solely to transportation purposes, rather than being put in to the state's general fund.

    Public sentiment in Minnesota has largely been in favor of spending what it takes to maintain transportation infrastructure, and the legislature this past session passed a gas tax increase to pay for it that Governor Pawlenty vetoed. How this tragic event may affect this issue remains to be seen, but it will be at the top of the agenda now.

    Posted by Dave | August 2, 2007 1:34 PM

    It's been almost 24 hours.

    Is it Bush's fault yet?

    Posted by AnonymousDrivel | August 2, 2007 2:04 PM

    RE: James I. Hymas (August 2, 2007 1:18 PM)
    No politician likes spending money on maintenance. Maintenance isn't sexy... shutting down a bridge or highway for six months in order to spend a lot of money giving the public what they thought they already had anyway.

    Too true.

    I'm no great friend of high taxes, but I'm not a big fan of boneheaded tax cuts and false economies either. Tell me what it costs to keep things in good repair and send me a bill.

    Yes. Rather than the continuously expanding development of new projects at the periphery as urban centers grow, I'd rather see a bit more commitment to the infrastructure of what we currently have. Granted, independent developers tend to find it easier/cheaper to build away from the city, but government councils that accommodate that trend at the expense of absolutely necessary renovation and maintenance do the public a disservice even if the public strongly endorses such "mis"appropriations. One cannot necessarily blame cities that bend to the whims of its citizens, so we all bear some blame for monies that are spent on glamor as opposed to the mundane.

    Case in point: Look at the tax money that is collected to build a new sports arena under the auspices of an economic ripple effect. Studies have shown that such expenditures do not offer the return as advertised or above and beyond that which would be made by investing that same money among many smaller businesses rather than one big one. Citizens almost always approve of bonds for such projects yet will wince should that same funding be suggested for something as common as road repair... something infinitely more useful and necessary and that benefits the entire city acutely.

    The U.S. has been coasting a bit on its infrastructure obligations and the bill is coming due. The question is which government program(s) can we slash as we try to fix that which has been neglected.

    Posted by LarryD | August 2, 2007 2:06 PM

    James, as you say, politicians don't like spending on maintainance, and this is true no matter how big the budget is. Increase the revenue, and they'll still want to spend it on some other than maintainance, so increasing taxes won't improve things.

    The voters are just going to have to demand that maintainance be done, and fire the politicians who won't see to it.

    Posted by Lightwave | August 2, 2007 3:08 PM

    Dave asks:

    It's been almost 24 hours.

    Is it Bush's fault yet?

    And according those ever-serious experts on our economy, the moonbats, the problem is directly the result of Bush's tax cuts and the Iraq War of course!

    BDS at its best, folks. How about we start talking about the real problem: billions of dollars of Democrat pork, huh?

    Now if those billions went to the war effort for armor or vehicles for our troops or for infrastructure maintenance instead of lining pockets, I bet we'd have a much better situation both here and abroad.

    The tax cuts at least stimulate the economy. The real problem is and always has been several tons of pork over an ounce of prevention.

    Posted by Greg | August 2, 2007 3:12 PM

    Obviously there will have to be an investigation into why the bridge failed, but there is something Minnesotans can do today that will rush the rebuilding process: Erect a sign at either end of the bridge approaches declaring that the new bridge will be named "The John P. Murtha Memorial Bridge." If nothing else the sign will remind them of why infrastructure isn't a priority at the Federal level.

    Posted by Del Dolemonte | August 2, 2007 3:25 PM

    Dave said:

    "Is it Bush's fault yet?"

    Check what "filistro" has to say on one of the other threads here. It most certainly IS Bush's fault, at least on the planet filistro lives on!

    Posted by flicka47 | August 2, 2007 6:05 PM

    Your are naming that bridge after the wrong congresscritter!

    Shouldn't it be the "Ted Steven's Bridge to Nowhere Memorial Bridge"??

    Seriously though folks,we do have a tax already to pay for highway repair/ maintenance/ upgrades. It just is not being used for that.
    Like you have mentioned it is not sexy.
    Instead our federal (and state) gas taxes get used for feel-good mass transit projects... Which have done nothing but make the problems worse.

    Posted by filistro | August 2, 2007 6:50 PM

    Hey, it's not often you wander into a brand new thread and find your name being taken in vain by a pineapple.

    (I must hasten to add that pineapple is one of my favorite fruits. Sweet but pulpy...)

    And just to set the record straight, Del, I don't blame Dubya for the bridge collapse, the national malaise, the decline of the republic OR the dreadful tragedy of the Iraq war.

    I think it's all Cheney's fault ;-)

    Posted by poodlemom | August 2, 2007 9:25 PM

    Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but think the 500+ million dollars that will be spent on the new dome for the Twins MIGHT be better spent on repairs/replacement of these bridges. From what I could see there is a I35E......wouldn't want to travel that any time soon (assuming all these configurations were built at the same time).

    Posted by tim8439 | August 2, 2007 11:12 PM

    Remember one thing folks We have a person that is finally doing what the tax payers have asked of our government and has used his veto pen to enforce some commen sense every one is starting to scream about him vetoing the gas tax bill wwell guess what it was not going to go to road work it was going to pay some other Democrat feel good project

    mark my words the dems are standing around rubbing their hands right now drooling at the prospect of a special session being called so they can spend more of our money to fix things there way

    Posted by Tony | August 3, 2007 1:56 AM

    Sure, let's spend tax dollars on bridges to no where (Alaska) instead of fixing what we have (and need!).

    Taxes goin' higher now....

    Posted by Joe Doakes | August 3, 2007 9:48 AM

    Uh, Cap'n? Where'd you get a St. Anthony medal for your dash? Mine shows Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river [strangely appropos in this case].

    Did that mendicant relic salesman rip me off? Do you think my plenary indulgence is fake, too?


    Posted by J. CHIARAVALLOTI | August 4, 2007 9:20 AM


    Our departments of transport act as if dangerous bridge ratings are intended only for future generations, not for us here and now. Bull. If a bridge is classified as "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolescent", that fact should be prominently indicated in signage and a detour should be indicated for those wish to take a slower, safer route.

    No, we can't fix them all tomorrow, but the public should be warned when they are facing unsafe conditions.

    Just truth in labeling.

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