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In the wake of the I-5 bridge collapse, the authorities want you to know that "structurally deficient" and "functionally obsolete" don't necessarily mean "about to fall into the river." It's true! They don't. Necessarily. The Skagit River Bridge combined two problem categories: It was functionally obsolete, meaning built to outdated specifications, and it was fracture-critical, meaning that if one key part fails, the whole thing fails. It's believed that that failure of one part was triggered when an oversized truck hit the bridge at the wrong place.

So what are the lessons we should be learning about American bridge infrastructure? There's no doubt it's hurting, with tens of thousands of structurally deficient bridges needing tens of billions of dollars in repairs. Public construction spending as a share of GDP is not a pretty picture right now:

Graph of public construction spending as a share of GDP, 1992-present. Line plunges post-recession.
There's a strategy question paired with the funding one. The story of the Skagit River Bridge makes you wonder if we shouldn't be focusing on replacing rather than repairing many bridges. This bridge has been repaired repeatedly in recent years. So, uh, why is the government spending a bunch of money repairing a bridge that doesn't meet modern traffic needs, will fall apart when hit by a truck that apparently did not sustain all that much damage, and was at one point structurally deficient? Repair is cheaper in the short term, but aside from the long-term costs that can be racked up, it leaves us with bridges that are too narrow or don't have enough clearance. Lots of such bridges, along with lots of actively unsafe bridges.

It's completely of a piece with the narrow thinking and refusal to invest in the future that has plagued our government in recent decades. But at moments like this, that lack of vision for the future should be part of the discussion.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri May 24, 2013 at 08:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Band aids are cheaper (16+ / 0-)

    in the short term than major surgery and carry none of the political consequences of having to shut down traffic, re-route roads, and have delays and spending over-runs that make the news which a brand new bridge entails.  Unfortunately, the public, trained by the modern propaganda machines, forgive politicians for allowing people to die more easily than spending money.

    Modern politicians lack courage and are in the same trap as modern corporations with quarterly profit/loss statements, the next budget, the next election is as far as they can see.

    •  Once again... (10+ / 0-)

      Corporations can get away with extreme harm and murder, but private citizens are prosecuted.  An oversized trunk caused the collapse.  Why are oversized vehicles allowed on that bridge?  If an average Joe was driving drunk and caused a bunch of cars to careen into the river, they would be in jail right now.

      'Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost' - Ronald Reagan, Communist

      by RichM on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:17:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well (10+ / 0-)

        It is the biggest road in the area.  The alternative is to divert the oversized truck onto smaller roads that might have even more issues.

        The fact is that we could triple infrastructure spending and this bridge still wouldn't have been at the top of the queue.  Perhaps one might say that just emphasizes how dire the situation is, but it is wrong to pretend that this was entirely preventable.

        •  OK... (8+ / 0-)

          I'll buy that.  But it's not the everyday driver who says: 'lower my taxes and don't build modern roads'.  It's the rich and powerful.

          'Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost' - Ronald Reagan, Communist

          by RichM on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:52:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  WA voters had the opportunity to (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            hmi, jfromga

            Implement income tax. They chose not to.

            We can't run this state on sales tax, B&O tax and property tax when home prices fall and purchases decline as they did from 2007-2011-ish.

            The average driver on that stretch of I-5 is likely a Washingtonian (see above) or an Oregonian or Canadian who knows how to avoid paying WA sales tax. Not necessarily someone rich, just a citizen who wants (and often needs) to keep his paycheck.

            I love WA. I pay a lot of WA taxes. I travel that section of I5 a lot and panicked when I saw that "breaking news," until I got the facts.

            But we have to look at this situation clearly too. We're a  state (with a schload of rivers and bridges) run by Dems with crumbling infrastructure.

            © grover

            So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

            by grover on Fri May 24, 2013 at 12:16:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  The only infrastructure that is being updated in (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jfromga, nchristine

          this country, is related to the transport of oil and gas.

          •  Infrastructure updating (3+ / 0-)

            Don't know where you live. Where I live (NYC) the Brooklyn Bridge is being renovated, the 2nd Ave. subway line construction going full steam, the Staten Island Expressway is being rebuilt, the channels into Port Newark terminal are being dredged and the Bayonne Bridge, a major span, will be raised 65 feet (from present 150) to accommodate the newest gigantic container vessels coming from the enlarged Panama Canal. This is not exactly a terrible slate of wimpy projects.

    •  On the other hand (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      phonegery, jfromga, Matt Z, nchristine

      why would a multinational corporation even consider locating a factory in the US with the shape our infrastructure is in? This stupid shit is hurting us at every angle......

      "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

      by fugwb on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:00:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There have been two bridges in our town (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... in need of replacement. In both cases, there was a lot of argument, mostly from older residents who are having a hard time affording their property taxes - they wanted us to repair them or leave them alone.  It's hard to blame them - this is their home and has been for a long time. It's not their fault that Social Security cost of living increases have been slowly reduced over the last few decades, leaving them unable to keep up.

      We've been lucky that the town voted overwhelmingly to replace both. Prior to town meeting, one of the bridges had been scheduled for repair, but when the repair crew engineer took a look underneath, he wanted to close the bridge until it was replaced. It's still open, and we're waiting on grant money to pay for the bridge design.  It's immediately upstream from a hydro-electric dam, so if it fails, things are going to be doubly messy.

  •  Increasingly, our vision of the future seems (26+ / 0-)

    to be utterly dominated by small-minded selfishness.  The method we have--collecting taxes--in order to provide for our common benefits, whether infrastructure maintenance, education, health, protection of the vulnerable, scientific research, emergency relief, food and drinking water safety, protections for working people, and overall quality of life--is more and more considered to be thievery.  People who have more than plenty believe that they should be able to keep it all to themselves, and the rest of society can go to hell.  I bemoan the chip-by-chip destruction of this bounteous country by an ideology of narrow self-interestedness.

    "Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand." ~ Atticus Finch, "To Kill a Mockingbird"

    by SottoVoce on Fri May 24, 2013 at 08:56:07 AM PDT

    •  And the sequester... (13+ / 0-)

      Will only make it worse.  How come they were able to change the flight delays?  Because Congress allowed - and the president signed - the FAA to take money from infrastructure projects and move it to air traffic control and security.  

      'Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost' - Ronald Reagan, Communist

      by RichM on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:19:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If they were honest in their ideology, the (9+ / 0-)

        GOP would celebrate the sequester as much-needed austerity. But they are not honest.  Their goal with the sequester, as with so many of their budget proposals, is to dampen and/or crush economic recovery so they can blame it on the President and perhaps win votes.  This is shockingly self-serving and flies squarely in the face of their mandate as public servants.  And, of course, presenting the FAA tradeoff for his signature was designed to put him in a box.  If he refused to sign it, they would have broadcast his "job-killing" failure far and wide (and probably with great success).  Meanwhile, the unfairness of their moving the cuts around this way allows them to focus the pain on those without political power, while using the economic fallout of the sequester to reap the reward in 2014.

        "Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand." ~ Atticus Finch, "To Kill a Mockingbird"

        by SottoVoce on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:41:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Spot-on! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SottoVoce, dewtx

      That is one of the most accurate and to-the-point summations of the current state of affairs in this country I have ever read. Well said.

    •  As I mention in a comment above, Social Security (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      also plays a role. As benefits fall further behind inflation, elderly people are less able to afford changes to their property tax, increases in fuel taxes, etc. This causes them to push back against necessary infrastructure expenses - not out of greed, but out of fear for their ability to continue to afford food and medicine.

      Improving SS benefits, and drastically improving health care (doughnut hole, anyone?) would go a long way toward gaining support from a large portion of the population - the early baby boomers.

  •  Building Bridges (18+ / 0-)

    If Obama had focused on building REAL bridges instead of trying to build bridges to congressional Republicans, we would be better off.

    The Democrats create jobs. The Republicans create recessions.

    by Tuba Les on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:03:17 AM PDT

  •  Thanks, Laura. (15+ / 0-)

    Was just reading a Cato Institute piece that sheds a lot of light on what we're up against in reversing this trend.

    Infrastructure Investment: A State, Local, and Private
    by Chris Edwards, Editor,
    The piece lays out their case for devolving all infrastructure decisions to the states and privatizing everything free of federal oversight and regulations.  

    Federal policymakers are understandably concerned
    that America have top-notch infrastructure in order
    to compete in the global economy. But the best way
    forward is for the federal government to cut subsidies and reduce its control over the nation’s infrastructure.     At the same time, the states should innovate with  privatization and PPPs to the full extent possible.  State governments would be more likely to make sound infrastructure decisions if they were free of the distortions created by federal spending programs and regulations.

     Privatization holds great promise. Consider, for example, that U.S. airports and seaports are
    generally owned by governments, but many
    foreign airports and seaports have been partly or fully privatized. The World Economic Forum rates America’s seaports only 19th in the world, but the world’s second- and third- best seaports — in Singapore and Hong Kong — are private .

    In sum, rather than increasing federal infrastructure
    spending — as some policymakers are proposing—
    we should begin devolving federal infrastructure
    activities to the states. The states should then
    unleash businesses and entrepreneurs to help
    America solve its mobility and congestion challenges.

    [emphasis added]


    Thought you may find it interesting. In my opinion, it goes a long way to explain the repeated rejection of Administration efforts to repair our failing infrastructure.

    It's a states' rights, corporate rights, drown the federal government in the bathtub, advocate's dream.

    "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

    by Onomastic on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:12:22 AM PDT

    •  It's a funneling money into the wealthiest private (6+ / 0-)

      hands dream.  Screw allowing governments which are collectivist organizations to have an ownership in something.  They want to privatize anything that can create a profit but they want the government to pick up the blame and costs if anything doesn't work out the way the 1% plan (and based off the crashes of the last few decades, the 1% plan pretty lousily with the possible exception of the oil riches of Iraq.

      •  They've been playing this game for a long time. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DSPS owl, ColoTim, splashy, dewtx

        Enron, anyone?

        A friend came over for tea the other day and being me, politics and policy came up.

        She's pretty well read but even she had been sucked into the "Business does it better than our elected government" does" propaganda that's been pushed for decades now.

        I'm paraphrasing, but she basically said that businesses can do a better job as government is not nearly efficient enough.

        So I did a Bill Clinton and walked her through the math of less and less funding for government agencies while population demands keep on rising.

        Cuts in funding to the NWS.

        Cuts in funding in Food and Water safety.

        Cuts in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

        Of course cuts in Infrastructure spending

        etc, etc, etc.

        And all while we're subsidizing big oil and allowing over seas tax shelters.

        Reminded her of good old Grover Norquist and his Republican followers who have been doing their damn best to break government and how it was working because people like her have been had.

        Then finished by saying that it was very sad to see her getting sucked in to the "business is god and can fix all our problems and government is ebil" nonsense since it was putting so many people, including her at risk.

        She has MS and continued medical research on that is naturally of importance to her.

        She didn't have much to say after that.

        I think this is the kind of conversation we need to be having with folks every chance we get, in the check out line, with friends and family, everywhere.

        "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

        by Onomastic on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:30:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I know where Cato got that idea (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Article I Section 8(3) of the Confederate Constitution.

      To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce…

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Fri May 24, 2013 at 03:11:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In other words "Republican maintenence" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Meaning the wealthy won't help at all, and things fall apart.

      Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

      by splashy on Fri May 24, 2013 at 05:25:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When I was a kid, I assumed we'd have moon bases (20+ / 0-)

    by the year 2013.

    Yet the reality is that we can't even keep our bridges up.

    It's fairly sad.

    The tent got so big it now stands for nothing.

    by Beelzebud on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:14:22 AM PDT

  •  From the article: (13+ / 0-)
    Officials believe an oversized truck traveling south on Interstate 5 hit the bridge and triggered the collapse, said Bart Treece, state Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesman. One of the bridge’s four spans fell into the water.
    State governments contribute to this as well.  How many vehicle weigh stations have been closed due to budget cuts?  And of course the corporations in the state (such as Wal Mart) are happy to see them go because they can fudge on the weight of those semis and save on costs.  I bet the company who owns that truck will get a slap on the wrist.

    'Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost' - Ronald Reagan, Communist

    by RichM on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:14:56 AM PDT

    •  This truck (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RichM, dewtx

      Was carrying drilling equipment coming in from Alberta.

      You could make a real good argument that this happened because of a decade of focus on paranoid nationalism has reduced focus on measuring the damn truck.

      ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

      by jessical on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:14:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks Laura (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:17:29 AM PDT

  •  Tumblr blog of Infrastructure collapse (8+ / 0-)

    I started a tumblr blog to memorialize the collapse of American public infrastructure.  This decay can be laid at the feet of the Republican obstructionism.
    Ruins of Empire - Tumblr

    After a flurry of activity, this blog suffered its own benign neglect.  Perhaps now I should spend time on its infrastructure.

  •  Bad Bridge Repair Hotline, Call: "YOURGOP" nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Penny GC

    *Austerity is the opposite of Prosperity*

    by josmndsn on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:36:33 AM PDT

  •  The truck was carrying drilling equip from Alberta (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kevskos, ColoTim, 6412093, splashy

    Was the equipment used to drill the tar sands?  Dear me, could this be another hidden cost of fossil fuels?

    •  I read it was headed to Vancouver, WA (5+ / 0-)

      Probably to be shipped from that port.  It was casing or housing for a drilling equipment.  I still can't  wrap my head about the disruption this will cause around here for months.

      I hate the feeling like we're just waiting to see the next catastrophic failure, while thinking that the smart people will help the myopic see how this affects us all and then we'll start seeing things get fixed.  I'm too naive though.

      •  I always think back to the Exxon Valdez. (6+ / 0-)

        Companies glibly take risks and screw things up for all of us and then turn around and don't want to pay the price.

      •  Vancouuver BC TV news crew on scene this a.m. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        splashy, Kristin in WA

        1. The oversize load had a pilot car. I assume from this that this wasn't a rogue event.
        2. The driver who remained on the scene said that he'd been cut-off by another truck and had to swerve.

        There's something seriously wrong with the engineering state of a bridge that is brought down by one truck, particuarly when we're talking about the Interstate system.

        Disruption: The I5 Blaine crossing to Metro Vancouver is the 3rd busiest Canada/US crossing (Detroit and Buffalo have more traffic).

        The TeaParty/GOP position is totally ridiculous given that long-term money is essentially free ( this morning says 30-year rate is 2.83%), a bridge could be financed with a reasonable toll, and the anemic economy could use the construction jobs and materials demand. (This is a vital transportation corridor that shouldn't be included in the rail/transit/road bridge argument.)

        Here's a 50-year old bridge less than 100 miles away that was replaced last December at a project cost including freeway and overpass upgrades of $2.46 billion.

        •  The Port Mann replacement (0+ / 0-)

          is a government boondoggle.

          Don't get me started on this. I live close to this crossing.

          This crossing, on our Trans Canada Highway, cost a huge amount of dollars and, to top it off, has tolls on it that will cost folks $1800 after tax dollars per year to cross it.

          Ridiculous waste of money.

          The bridge it replaced worked just fine.

    •  Repairs paid for by public monies (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      6412093, Penny GC

      because if this is true, it was private entity which forced the government to incur this cost.  Lovely (not).

  •  The cartel of banksters that runs the world (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Penny GC, splashy

    is turning the USA into a third world toilet.  They are looting, pillaging and allowing what's left to fall into ruin.  When the entire US economy has been destroyed, they will buy up national assets for pennies on the dollar.

    Their ultimate objective is to destroy all national sovereignty and economies so that the cartel can offer a one-stop solution to the world's economic problems...

    their central world bank, centrally issued currency.  

    Think of the Fed on steroids ... as it becomes the sole arbiter of finance.

    Only the Russians and the Asians are resisting this evil plan...

  •  Not that I dwell on such things, but occasionally (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell, Penny GC

    I would wonder what bridge was next to collapse.

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:42:35 AM PDT

  •  The bigger the problem, the harder it is to see it (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    princesspat, 6412093, Penny GC, rschndr, grover

    I now live a few miles south of the collapsed I-5 bridge, in Puget Sound country, but grew up in Texas.

    I remember driving around out in the back roads of central Texas and finding a bridge that only had loose boards on the roadway.  You had to assess whether they fit the width of your tires and if they didn't you had to walk out there on beams and move the boards.  As you drove across they flexed and banged up and down.  The little stream was probably about twenty feet down.  

    In Puget Sound country, the number of waterways that require bridges or causeways is pretty amazing, as are the structures themselves.  If there are supposed to be 4,000 bridges in Washington, I can believe it.  The amount of engineering going on and the level of skill involved is awesome.  

    For those who don't know it, the I-90 bridge that brings traffic into Seattle from points east is an engineering wonder.  It is a floating bridge, composed of roadway sections that have to be floated into place.  A discussion about the replacement of this vital traffic link was based on an estimate that it would cost a staggering sum.  In the billions.  With a "b" billions.  

    One can not just wave a magic wand and cure infrastructure ills.  Each one of the projects requires focused attention by engineers, and those who fund highway projects.  With the current climate that rejects the notion that we need to provide for the common weal, this discussion keeps getting put off and then put off some more.  

    Perhaps the collapse of some of these roads will speed up the swing of the pendulum back to infrastructure investment.

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:44:39 AM PDT

    •  I'm reminded of the Hazard St. bridge in Houston (0+ / 0-)

      What's in a name?  It was hit SOOO many times ... but the street actually had the name first.  They finally raised it when they rebuilt US 59.  

      Guns don't kill people like hammers don't pound nails.

      by rschndr on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:27:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Like our bridges, America is deteriorating (4+ / 0-)

    Public investment, how we raise and spend our tax dollars, is probably the reflection we have of our values as a country. Allowing bridges that carry millions of people and commerce to deteriorate is a direct corollary of the attitudes of our leaders to investing for the future: they no longer care.

    Just as business has evolved to value next months earnings above all else and employees least of all, and just as our politicians have evolved to focusing only on where their contributions will come from, America has evolved to where we are incapable of being forward thinking, planning, and investing as a nation.

    Today our greatness is not measured by what we do, only what we could potentially do. But we will not raise the money needed. We will not ask those that have profited the most, individuals and corporations, to contribute a larger share. Our leaders tell us over and over we are broke, America can't afford it. The reality is a small, small portion of our population continues to manipulate our government to further enrich themselves rather than allow our country to invest in ourselves and our future. In this respect, we are a model for no one.

  •  How bad are bridges in your area? Find out... (5+ / 0-)

    Great source is Transportation for America website:

    63-year-old bridge collapses in Washington State on west coast’s most major interstate
    May 24, 2013
    By Stephen Lee Davis
    Shortly after the evening commute last night (around 7 p.m. local time) an entire section of the Interstate 5 bridge  — both north and southbound lanes — over the Skagit River an hour north of Seattle, Washington collapsed and fell into the river, sending two cars tumbling down into the river, injuring three yet miraculously killing no one. One of those who plunged into the river along with his wife called it a “miracle” that no one was killed or more severely injured.
    Check the list at the link below for the status of bridges in your area. Report your concern for problem bridges to you local, local state and federal officials.
    The State of Our Nation's Bridges

    Despite billions of dollars in federal, state and local funds directed toward the maintenance of existing bridges, 69,223 bridges — 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. — are classified as "structurally deficient," requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.

    *Austerity is the opposite of Prosperity*

    by josmndsn on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:50:41 AM PDT

  •  Why, indeed? (0+ / 0-)

    Could it be that politicians prefer to repair bridges to keep money flowing to key districts rather than replace them and lose their leverage over voters?

  •  "lessons we should be learning?" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Don't run into the bridges with an over sized load or better yet don't be on the bridge when it happens.  

    You know very well that will be the GOP response to these issues don't you.  In fact if they can they will try to prosecute the people who fell in the water and maybe even elect the truck driver to office for pointing out the failed policies of the Obama administration to keep the American people safe.

    "To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medication to the dead." Thomas Paine

    by My two cents worth on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:57:12 AM PDT

  •  I don't get the Republican animus to infrastructur (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, Penny GC, ColoTim, splashy

    Is it the union jobs? You'd think the government handing out money to construction firms would be seen as good for business.

    Why is money spent on missiles and aircraft carriers good government spending, and money spent on building roads and rail and bridges and other things that reduce costs for business and open up markets bad government spending?

    Can someone explain that?  Because I sure can't.

    "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class." - Violet Crawley

    by nightsweat on Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:58:10 AM PDT

    •  It's not where the money is. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim, Kickemout

      In Washington, one line in one bill can means hundreds of millions of dollars for a company or industry, and getting it into a bill can set an elected official up for life. In the mortgage settlement firms contracted to review the files were paid 2 BILLION DOLLARS for work that was absolute junk. Think how much of that will be kicked back in campaign contributions. No such margins exist for infrastructure.

      So, for Republicans is it the unions jobs? Absolutely that is a factor.

  •  One observation (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomFromNJ, princesspat, 6412093, Mr Robert

    The bridge in question was built in 1955.  The Interstate Highway Act was passed in 1956, so the bridge was retroactively added to the system.  Google Earth shows that there are no medians or breakdown lanes on the bridge; it is a cattle chute.  (It appears to have been originally built as part of upgrading US99, which is what was there before I-5.  Most freeways of this vintage tend to be a little bit creaky; from Google Earth, it looks like most of I-5 had been upgraded to Interstate standards but they never did anything about the bridge.)

  •  Thoughts? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    orlbucfan, 6412093, ColoTim

    In NJ we can't increase the tax on gasoline so funds are drying up for repairs.  If they kept up with the roads rather than let them go the damage wouldn't get so bad that the whole road has to be replaced.  I've seen good concrete roads slowly fall apart over many years until they are dangerous rather than be properly maintained.  They are then replaced with asphalt surfaces that seem to last less than 3 years before failing.  We have new asphalt highways that are already coming apart while most drivers routinely ignore the 65 mph speed limits.

    Will be interesting to see when the Tappan Zee Bridge, also deficient and past its useful life will be replaced.  I see activity in the water...possibly putting in pilings or testing core samples.....

    The NYC East River Bridges are all more than 100 yrs old.  They were close to falling down back in the 80s.  After spending a lot of $ they are now in better shape.  Last major bridge in NY Metro area is the Verranzano Narrows built 50 years ago.  The much needed addition of rail tunnels from NJ to NY was cancelled by our current Gov.  Our mass transit system is NYC centered.  Very difficult to use mass transit to go within NJ.  We used to have interstate interurban transit....Gone long before I moved here.  The Bergen/Hudson Light Rail seems to be getting a fair amount of use....

    Talking about trucks, I was waiting next to one semi at a light yesterday.  The tires on the trailer...all I could see....were bald.  Almost no tread.  With at least one recap looking like it was ready to come off.  In a heavy downpour.  This is safety?  We have retreads all over the highways because they come flying off.  Almost once a week there is some truck that has jack-knifed or overturned.  Some drivers fly by you thinking they are driving sports cars and end up tailgating.  Others spout smoke and fumes like coal locomotives.  I seem to recall trucks are not inspected to the frequency cars are...although the car inspections were cut back a couple of years ago.

    The NJ Turnpike Garden State Pkwy seem to get a lot of maintenance and expansions.  Big projects going on right now on NJT.  Of course these are toll roads with increasing rates fairly frequently.

    Cost for me to go to see family on Long Island....just bridge about $28 round trip.....Not sure what the Bridge Authority does with all the money but for the most part the VZ bridge is kept up well and the Outerbridge and Goethels Bridges are also maintained - although the lanes are very narrow since they were build in the '30s.

    •  Tappan Zee bridge is being replaced: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      five-year, $3.9 billion project.
      • A “New” New York Bridge will create or sustain at least 45,000 jobs
      Summary of Key Points
      [all figures pertain to five-year construction period]
      • Jobs: 38,644 direct, indirect, and induced “job-years”
      • Gross Domestic Product of the New NY Bridge project (total value of final goods and services): $3.2 billion
      • Output (total value of all goods produced): $5.6 billion
      • Total personal income (direct, indirect and induced construction-related jobs): $3.7 billion
      • Real disposable personal income: $2.0 billion

      I know because my firm's bridge section is involved.  Huge project, well overdue, and a big economic boost during construction.  An investment in continuing to be able to cross Tappan Zee into the future.

      This is a big project, but similar local economic benefits are realized from all kinds of public infrastructure project spending, the famous "multiplier effect" of, YES, government spending.

      I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

      by tom 47 on Fri May 24, 2013 at 11:09:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but still pound foolish (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomFromNJ, Clem Yeobright

        iirc it's still bigger than necessary, overprices, doesn't have a mass transit or a pedestrian/bike lane (unsure about that)

        If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

        by indefinitelee on Fri May 24, 2013 at 11:12:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Would be typical for NY area..... (0+ / 0-)

          When Robert Moses was building all his highways in NY area back in the 30s-60s had chances to incorporate transit into plans but didnt....when they built the Van Wyck Expressway to Kennedy Airport could have put a rail line in like what I've seen in Chicago....Didn't bike lanes on VZ Narrows, Throggs Neck, Whitestone, or Triborough.....There are bike lanes on the George Washington Bridge but don't think he was involved.....

          •  Transit and bike/ped trail on bridge at opening: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TomFromNJ, indefinitelee

            Please see Slides 13 and  17 in link above:


            A Vital Regional Transportation Link To Last into the Next Century
            • 8 traffic lanes, matching landings on both sides
            • Dedicated lanes and wide shoulders for emergency vehicles
            • Enhanced express commuter bus service
            • Dedicated walkway / bikeway
            • High-tech sensors provide real-time data on traffic and road conditions
            • Improved toll collection and more E-Z Pass lanes
            Transit for the Future

            What we heard:
            • Transit options must be incorporated into the bridge

            What we are doing:
            • Enhanced express commuter bus service on the bridge from the day it opens
            • Hundreds of millions of dollars included in Project to make new bridge ready for BRT or commuter rail

            I'm part of the "bedwetting bunch of website Democrat base people (DKos)." - Rush Limbaugh, 10/16/2012 Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

            by tom 47 on Fri May 24, 2013 at 02:56:06 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Infrastructure is stimulus (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rschndr, ColoTim, grover, clecinosu
    The CBO estimated in 2011 that for every dollar the federal government spent on infrastructure through Mr Obama’s stimulus, the value of economic activity increased by between $1 and $2.50—one of the biggest multipliers of the main components of the program. And a study by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2009 found that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 18,000 jobs, almost 30% more than if the same amount were used to cut personal income taxes.

    So according to the Congressional Budget Office, we get a 100% to 250% return on infrastructure spending. People get jobs doing the infrastructure work, and other jobs are available afterward as companies open new locations or improve old ones, and companies save money on transportation and maintenance costs. It's a win for everyone.
    No wonder the Republican congress will have none of it.

    Everybody got to elevate from the norm....

    by Icicle68 on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:05:07 AM PDT

  •  Republicans like to compare (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ColoTim, grover, splashy, nchristine

    national budgets to their home budgets.They say dont spend money you dont have.Do they let their houses leak and rot because they cant afford to repair the roof? Just asking.

  •  I am happy to see in Colorado a number of bridges (0+ / 0-)

    that are being replaced.  I drive along I-25, the main N-S freeway in the state as well as along US-36 to Boulder every day.  The bridges on I-25, plus what lane-widening can be done given the valley that the highway runs through, are all necessary.  The existing bridges had spalling concrete which would occasionally fall on cars traveling below and now there will be new, solid bridges.  I don't know if the bridges are wider now, but at least they're not going to kill people driving underneath.

    Traffic gets very gnarly as we're restricted to two lanes in many areas on US-36, but they're putting in a couple of carpool lanes and replacing pretty much every bridge along the way.  I was hoping they'd be putting in the light rail they've been promising for years, but no - bus and carpool traffic are being given the priority at this time and the light rail is put off for several more years.  

    I think it's great to have the infrastructure investment - I know things will be getting better from that and I am looking forward to the eventual mass transit that could allow me to use it rather than a car to get to work.

  •  3rd world nation (0+ / 0-)

    now tell how are we any different?

    "The real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of its people and nature." -- Rianne Eisler

    by noofsh on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:16:04 AM PDT

  •  On Structurally Deficient v. Functionally Obsolete (0+ / 0-)

    Some of the worst built and most dangerous bridges have been built as part of superhighways like I 5. Meanwhile the Keystone arch still holds up Roman bridges 2000 years later. The overconfidence with which the engineering community embraced steel supported spanned concrete combined with the greed of road contractors has helped create tragedies like the I 5 and Minnesota's I 35 collapses.

    Big road contractors like repetitive work where they can use their giant paving machines continuously. Therefore they love simple projects like lengthening ramps or widening turning radii. They tend to dislike fixing structural deficiencies like fixing steel structural bridge components. They usually have to sub contract out work to firms skilled in structural engineering. Also fixing existing infrastructure has little political appeal- no ground breaking or ribbon cutting. Yet, as the I 5 tragedy demonstrates we need structural problems addressed whether through repair or new construction. The Road lobby wants more money, but not so much for safety and certainly not for transit. They want to just keep feeding their existing format. We need to focus infrastructure spending on objectives that help improve safety, the economy and the environment.  

    Cities are good for the environment

    by citydem on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:31:46 AM PDT

  •  Graphic not telling the whole story (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The graphic shows that construction spending has dropped sharply since the start of the great recession but the magnitude of the drop is only around 10% below of the prerecession average (only data since 1992 is shown).  The problem of underinvesting in infrastructure goes back much longer so the trend would be better shown by a graphic going back to the 50s and 60s when we were actually investing in infrastructure.

    Maybe there's data out there that shows our national infrastructure as an asset, where the value of the each asset depreciates over time.

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.—Carl Schurz
    "Shared sacrifice!" said the spider to the fly.—Me

    by KingBolete on Fri May 24, 2013 at 10:33:02 AM PDT

  •  Lesson: don't hit bridges with trucks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover, Clem Yeobright

    that's really all. sans collision with proper maintenance it could have lasted another 20 years probably.

    If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

    by indefinitelee on Fri May 24, 2013 at 11:10:25 AM PDT

  •  What the no-tax crowd doesn't realize... (0+ / 0-) that capital investments in our nation's infrastructure will be needed for said no-tax crowd to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. If the private sector won't fund necessary projects, who will?

    I believe they would do very well to not fight the necessary public infrastructure investments. Much of the Interstate system opened 30-40 years or longer ago, and is nearing the point where a complete rebuild will be needed.

    And this is from someone from a community that is painfully aware of the consequences of poorly designed bridges. The canary in the coal mine emerged on that warm summer evening in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007.

    The ballot box must NEVER be used as a tool of oppression.

    by vikingrob on Fri May 24, 2013 at 11:25:04 AM PDT

  •  America is being run like a hill-billy third world (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    clecinosu, splashy, nchristine

    country thanks to the plague of R-publicans infesting Washington.  The country is falling apart and the Republicans are (figuratively) putting cars up on blocks and rusting washing machines in front of the Capitol.  In 2001 when it was estimated the country needed $1.5 trillion in infrastructure maintenance, the Republican George Bush instead pushed through a$1.5 trillion tax cut.   Two years later when the nation's infrastructure needed more attention Bush instead started a series of gratuitous Crusades for $3 trillion.   And just a few months ago when the Capitol dome sprung a thousand leaks the T-publicans cut maintenance.  So now America has become an exceptional, trash nation.  This is what American Exceptionalism looks like.

  •  "Repubilcan maintenence" is what this is (0+ / 0-)

    Maintenance that doesn't maintain anything.

    It breaks down, killing or injuring people.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Fri May 24, 2013 at 12:10:57 PM PDT

  •  not one commenter has mentioned (0+ / 0-)

    spending on wars

  •  I live in a small desert town. (0+ / 0-)

    The waste water treatment plant has a 20 year expiration then things start breaking and falling apart.
    The city council decided to keep fixing the old plant rather than build a new plant.
    Building a modern water processing plant would create jobs.

  •  Lesson: Gov says trucks shouldn't hit bridges. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yes he actually said that. The one lesson we want to discourage right now is not having trucks hit our bridges. Later the DOT Director said that most bridges get hit by cars and trucks repeatedly. In fact this bridge was repaired just last fall.   So maybe the main thing we need to focus on is not having our bridges collapse when not if trucks hit them.  You think?

    I know politicians says stupid things off the cuff but that's the quote the media is focusing on so what they are doing is blaming the driver not the bridge.

    One semi driver called in and said that section of the bridge flexes when you drive over it and makes trucks hard to control.  He suggested that the reason that the pilot car cleared bridge ahead of the truck but that the rig with the close fit didn't, was that  the bridge bucked and threw the high load into the girder.

    Still just maybe, maybe, the bridge shouldn't have fallen.    

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Fri May 24, 2013 at 02:11:05 PM PDT

  •  This is a real scandal. (0+ / 0-)

    But since real scandals only involve GOP incompetence and negligence, nothing to see here -- except another monumental failure of republican "leadership."

  •  The cavalier attitude of those charged (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with protecting us citizens from disasters such as collapsing bridges makes my blood run cold. To wit, this passage from the Seattle Times:
    "There are 362 fracture-critical bridges in Washington state, says the Federal Highway Administration.

    “It doesn’t imply anything bad about the bridge. It just means that if a certain component fails, it can lead to the complete collapse of the bridge,” said Jugesh Kapur, former head of bridges and structures for the DOT.
    Sure," nothing bad about the bridge;" it just fell into the river because it was a swell bridge!
    Seriously, now I have to worry about the safety of 362 other bridges in my state.
    I have to worry that all the drivers on the road are more competent than the poor sap who evidently triggered the collapse into the Skagit River.
    Why can't we have an advanced nation anymore? This is just insane.

  •  Roullete Republican Style (0+ / 0-)

    This is just one more example that demonstrates that electing republicans is like playing Russian roulette.  

    Sooner or later a bridge is going to collapse with you on it, or you are going to eat come uninspected meat, or you will hit an unfilled pot hole that will flip your car, or some unregulated waco gunman at a movie theater will take you out.  All the extra hazards issues republicans seem determined to increase in our lives, making it more and more certain that one day, no matter who you are or where you live, you will become one of their victims.

  •  The Driver did it...No wait...The Pilot Car... (0+ / 0-)

    Right now all we are hearing is the blame game.  The pilot car driver has apparently disappeared into the wilds of Canada so lets "Blame Canada."  

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Mon May 27, 2013 at 05:17:21 PM PDT

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