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A Tough Lesson about Bridge Maintenance and Management

Remember the Skagit River Bridge collapse?  You know — that unfortunate, nerve-wracking event that happened a few weeks ago.  I can’t blame you if you’ve forgotten already. The media certainly did. Which is a shame, since the incident shed much-needed light on the fact that thousands of bridges across the country could be one freak accident away from collapse.

We know now that an oversized tractor-trailer load struck several of the bridge's trusses, triggering the collapse.  We also know that the bridge’s outdated design led the Washington Dept. of Transportation to classify it as “fracture critical,” a polite term used to describe a bridge that’s ridiculously inadequate by modern safety standards. 

We all depend on a functioning infrastructure to live our daily lives. So a story like this is always timely. But the Skagit River bridge collapse is especially timely because it comes right on the heels of the ASCE 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure

A few weeks back, Brant Scheidecker discussed the dismal grades America received on the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Our overall GPA?  D+.  Interestingly, our bridges received the highest mark of any infrastructural component: C+.

But Brant and the ASCE aren’t the only ones divvying out tough love. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-2013 ranks our country’s overall infrastructure 25thin the world. That puts us well behind renowned innovators (cough, sarcasm, cough) such as Finland, Luxembourg, Bahrain, and Oman, to name a few. 

Unfortunately, politicking favors glad-handing over common sense ideas. By all appearances, this latest incident has been met with a reluctant shrug from officials on both sides of the House, presumably so they can go back to undermining each other between elections.  That’s precisely why it’s up to YOU, the hard-working men and women in local government, to PROPOSE A SOLUTION.

Seriously; who knows better than you?  You’re elbow deep in infrastructure failure. You’re adept at doing more with less. And I’m willing to bet you and your peers are the only ones truly qualified to initiate a meaningful dialogue about a subject everyone seems all too eager to avoid.   

What you have to say probably won’t be popular to those footing the bill. In fact, it may even offend them. But it will be a much-needed dose of reality. I don’t know how an overhaul of this magnitude—somewhere in the neighborhood of $32 billion according to the ASCE—gets paid for, but I’m guessing rhymes with “axes.” 

Call me crazy, but I suspect that most of us would gladly shell out a little more dough each year to avoid being a commuter on the next bridge that goes down.