Once again the unthinkable has happened in America. A highway bridge has collapsed. The seemingly instantaneous failure of the I-35W bridge in Minnesota last month sent (as of press time) 11 motorists, including at least one truck driver, to their deaths, inflicted numerous injuries and cost God knows what in damages and total economic impact. Not to mention what this latest spectacular failure of our nation's highway infrastructure has done to the national psyche and how the U.S. is viewed worldwide.
I mean, c'mon, huge bridges- this one was in the heart of the major metropolis known as the Twin Cities and was designed to span no less than the mighty Mississippi for crissakes — are not supposed to just buckle out of the blue and pancake themselves into a real-life horror show that kills and maims those unlucky enough to be driving on them. At least not in my United States.
“A bridge in America shouldn't just fall down,” is what Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) declared at a news conference held shortly after the I-35W collapse. And she rightly pointed out this failure is a reminder the nation's infrastructure needs to be a funding priority.
I still remember how incredulous I was when it happened in my neck of the woods one summer night 23 years ago.
On June 28, 1983, a 100-ft. long section of the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich CT (just up from the New York State line) simply dropped to the river gorge 70 ft. below, killing three motorists.
Had it not happened late at night there is no telling how many more would have been killed as that bridge is part of the major thoroughfare that's the gateway to New England and connects New York City with New Haven, Boston and beyond.
Here at FleetOwner, we of course constantly cover the whole, massive issue of America's crumbling infrastructure. We did so very comprehensively in our 2005 magazine article series, “Roads to Hell.”
But very sadly not a whole hell of a lot has changed in the last two years let alone since the Mianus River Bridge collapse.
And let us not forget what Hurricanes Katrina and Rita told us about the despicable state of so much of our nation's crucial infrastructure.
As we pointed out in “Roads to Hell,” the longer this country's road users — truckers first and foremost — wait to demand government action, the more it will cost and the longer it will take to get our highway infrastructure on anything resembling a road to recovery.
We also duly noted that politics complicates matters. We all know highways are big business — for those who make them, those who use and pay for them, and, yes, those in state legislatures and Congress, who authorize them. To get true road reform, requires reconciling the needs and wants of special interests beyond trucking.
But the first step is to recognize that politics must be played. It does no good, as some love to do, to start railing about how “them in Washington” (or up at the Statehouse) are going to spend the money any way they choose.
Yeah, they will if you keep voting them back into office. All you who have soured on politics may not want to hear it, but the solution is simple — demand that your elected representatives pass legislation that will fund road and bridge projects that make sense.
If they don't, don't complain to me. Again, vote them out of a job. Democratic, Republican or “Independent,” they all work for us. We run this country. But only when we collectively step up to the plate on Election Day.
As things are going now, we don't need terrorists to take down our country. We're doing a fine job of it ourselves.