First of all, the
Make no mistake, the nation’s tax dollars would be much more meaningfully spent maintaining our highways and bridges than the way Bush and Congress have squandered billions in
Yet I have to argue that it is a serious misrepresentation to even suggest the collapse is the fault of the Bush administration.
The day after the collapse, John Nichols wrote in The Nation “an obsessive focus on warmaking abroad leaves a trail of death, destruction and decay in the
There are criticisms about the nation’s priorities and tax structure within both stories that are certainly valid. That’s where the hype needs to end.
The quote by Turnipseed that referenced The Center for Strategic and International Studies first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Comparing the portion of federal, state and local spending from the 1960s is very misleading. The fact is that the federal aid portion for bridge replacements and major rehabilitation is 80% for bridges that qualify according to their condition rating.
It’s that label “structurally deficient” which comes from the condition rating that has been mostly seriously misunderstood since the bridge collapse. The numbers of structurally deficient bridges across the country have been all over the news because the
As a former bridge inspector who also spent one year assessing all of
And the ability of even the most qualified inspectors will never be enough to prevent some tragic collapses from happening. In a program that defines inspection frequency in terms of one or two years, it is nearly impossible for an inspector to be on site at the right time to discover the kind of serious flaws that might progress to such points. A degree of negligence may on rare occasions play a role, but more often than not the mistakes are innocent. They are mistakes because that which we can't know is relegated to the best judgment available, which is experienced based on the thousands of other situations that weren't mistakes.
The 1983 collapse of the
The Schoharie Creek Bridge collapse four years later on the New York Throughway delivered the transportation community new lessons on bridge scour. More improvements were made to the national bridge inspection program. But it remains incredibly complex and difficult to examine the scour under a bridge pier when it is most critical, which happens to be during the worst periods of flooding.
Part of the point here is that older bridges aren’t any different than any engineered product, be it automobiles, airplanes, buildings, or pipelines. In our nation’s rush to build a world of mass convenience to facilitate our habits of mass consumption, there is a blindness to tomorrow that is related to using materials and design theories that are the best available at the time. No one can possibly gauge the magnitude of the future problems we create when the rush to build more and bigger, wider highways is always ahead of us.
Despite the American Society of Civil Engineers' report card that rates bridges a “C” (higher than all but one of the 15 categories), one must remember that every profession has its lobby. Engineers imagine a perfect world today from the present technological point of view. More, bigger and wider is work to an engineer, and that is especially handy for extracting their piece of the taxpayer pie to support their same mass consumption habit that none of us can afford to ignore.
In an ideal world, Nichols new slogan “No More Collapses” is an admirable goal. But our cultural vision of the ideal world would ask that we all escape premature death by being protected from every conceivable kind of accident, crime, disease and even natural disaster.
Which brings me to my second point. Sometimes planes crash, buildings burn, and bridges fall. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in
If we look at all the evidence before we judge the present situation as a negligent failure that reveals an imposing threat to our way of life, what we’ll find is that the initial reaction needs to be tempered with caution and an overall societal responsibility. Ranting about “the war against the transportation terror in our own back yard terror” reeks of political opportunism. It is a mistaken departure from seeking the truth.
We can’t ask and shouldn’t expect the government to protect us from all possibility of death in the air, on highways, or in buildings. If we as antiwar activists honestly believe that Bush sowed the seeds of fear to sell his war and turn the country into a police state, then we mustn’t stoop to his level of abusing the truth by trying to mobilize new fears so that we can blame the administration for this tragedy. We have to be truthful first and foremost or we become like them.