Crumbling Infrastructure

Last year, a major freeway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing or injuring dozens. That jump-started the long-overdue public debate over the state of this country’s crumbling transportation infrastructure; every state’s department of transportation has been checking and re-checking bridges, and begging for more money to do something about the thousands in need of attention.

It’s worth remembering, though, that so far the attention has only really been on road bridges. This is to be expected – they’re public property, and carry people.

Surprise, surprise, other kinds of bridges around the country are in serious disrepair, too.

Railroad lift bridge, by Robert Street, Saint Paul

Above is a pier on the railroad lift bridge in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. This – privately owned – bridge spans the Mississippi River just upstream of Robert Street, and carries several trains a day. As you can see, it’s not exactly in perfect condition; depending on your point of view, it’s either “eBay near mint” or “one strong breeze away from collapse”. As far as I can tell, the owner is under no obligation to do anything about the condition of the bridge. I’m sure – well, I hope – it would be considered “deficient”, but you really have to wonder just how much worse it has to get before they decide it’s, you know, unsafe.

When – not if – this bridge collapses, perhaps only a handful of people will be killed or injured – the bridge operator, and a couple of locomotive engineers. Heck, the last aren’t even a given; for all I know, they’re running remote-control locomotives over this bridge. It’s going to block the river, however, and at a much more inconveniencing location than the interstate bridge in Minneapolis. I’m sure talking heads on television will spout indignities about how the whole thing was unforeseen, and could never have been predicted, and they’ll find some retired railroad employees who will bemoan how little is being done to ensure a safe work environment, and some suit from DHS will go on and on about the vital importance of commercial transportation to our nation’s – oops, the Homeland’s – economic well-being. A lot of fingers will be pointed, a lot of money will be spent in a big flurry of mostly pointless busy-work, and once the next blonde college student goes missing, or the next political scandal or grim War on Terror body-count milestone is reached, it’ll be Old News, left behind and forgotten about… because that’s just the way the world works. A company’s stock will fall, perhaps temporarily, and maybe an executive will lose his job, and that’ll be it… until the next time a railroad bridge collapses.

So, when you hear politicians talking about our crumbling infrastructure, remember – public road bridges aren’t the only ones in need of repair – they’re just the ones everyone is making the effort to appear concerned about…

Published in: General, Security | on April 30th, 2008| 1 Comment »

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  1. On 4/30/2008 at 2:54 pm Nemo Said:

    As a footnote, I’m not sure what’s more amazing – the condition of this bridge, or that I was able to take this picture without being stopped, questioned, and/or arre- whoops, gotta go, somebody at the door.