Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Collapse Of Minneapolis I-35W Bridge Highlights America's Crumbling Infrastructure - American Society Of Civil Engineers Warned Us Of This In 2005

The tragic collapse of the entire span of the I-35W bridge crossing the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis at the height of rush hour on August 1st, 2007, highlights the progressive crumbling of America's infrastructure, particularly our transportation network.

According to Minneapolis' FOX 9 News, at 6:05 P.M. CDT, witnesses heard a loud roar just before the entire span of the bridge where the freeway crosses the river near University Avenue collapsed into the water. Some sections were submerged; others not. Some people and vehicles are stranded on the non-submerged portions of the bridge. Early reports indicate as many as 50 vehicles, including one 18-wheeler which caught fire, plunged into the water.

Ironically, an estimated 20-30 construction workers engaged in a summer-long renovation of the bridge were on the span at that time. So far, 28 injuries and six deaths have been reported by Hennepin County Medical Center (look for this to change as rescue and recovery efforts continue). Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said there was no structural damage to the bridge needing attention prior to the collapse. He said the Minnesota Department of Transportation was fixing some cosmetic flaws.

Additional Twin Cities media outlets to monitor include WCCO and KSTP.

However, without in any way intending to second-guess the state of Minnesota specifically, this is a major symptom of a problem which is not exactly a state secret. It has been known for quite a while that much of America's infrastructure is crumbling, particularly our bridges and roads. Some public officials, strapped for cash and desperate to keep their roads up, have even embraced the extreme of selling the "operating rights to our roads" to foreigners.

While the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) obviously didn't warn us of this specific bridge collapse in advance, they did issue us a coherent and comprehensive assessment of our nation's infrastructure, and it wasn't favorable. In 2005, they conducted an exhaustive survey of our entire nation's infrastructure and graded each state on their network. They calculated it would take a $1.6 trillion investment to bring our entire infrastructure up to par. Nationally, they awarded us an overall letter grade of "D" on our entire infrastructure, a decrease from the "D+" on the previous survey. On August 9th, 2005 conducted an interview with then-ASCE President William Henry, who discussed the report at length. Henry stated that our current "patch and pray" approach would cost us at least 60% of that $1.6 trillion total, so we might as well go the extra mile and do it right.

The assessment of our nation's bridges was a bit better, resulting in a letter grade of "C". ASCE stated that "between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of the nation's 590,750 bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete decreased slightly from 28.5% to 27.1%. However, it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies. Long-term underinvestment is compounded by the lack of a Federal transportation program". Note: Some people might recall the collapse of a bridge along I-40 in Oklahoma a few years ago, but that was triggered by a barge ramming it.

However, the assessment of our nation's roads matched the overall infrastructure grade, resulting in a letter grade of "D". ASCE stated that "poor road conditions cost U.S. motorists $54 billion a year in repairs and operating costs--$275 per motorist. Americans spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, at a cost of $63.2 billion a year to the economy. Total spending of $59.4 billion annually is well below the $94 billion needed annually to improve transportation infrastructure conditions nationally. While long-term Federal transportation programs remain unauthorized since expiring on Sept. 30, 2003 [at the time of the report], the nation continues to shortchange funding for needed transportation improvements".

To find out how YOUR state graded out, click HERE then click on your state.

Here was the ASCE's assessment of Minnesota's roads:

- 69% of Minnesota's major urban roads are congested.
- 25% of Minnesota's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- Vehicle travel on Minnesota's highways increased 42% from 1990 to 2003. Minnesota's population grew 16% between 1990 and 2003
- Driving on roads in need of repair costs Minnesota motorists $690 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs --- $227 per motorist.
- Congestion in the Minneapolis - St. Paul metropolitan area costs commuters $740 per person per year in excess fuel and lost time.

Surprisingly, bridges were not rated as a separate category.

Of course, being an Alaskan, my next move was to find out how Alaska fared in this survey. I replicate the entire result below:


- 33% of Alaska's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- Vehicle travel on Alaska's highways increased 24% from 1990 to 2003. Alaska's population grew 18% between 1990 and 2003.
- The Alaska Department of Transportation estimates that the agency's maintenance needs are under-funded at least $40 million annually.
- Driving on roads in need of repair costs Alaska motorists $102 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs -- $212 per motorist.
- Congestion in the Anchorage metropolitan area costs commuters $87 per person in excess fuel and lost time.

Bridges: 30% of Alaska's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.


- There are 26 state-determined deficient dams in Alaska.
- Alaska has 18 high hazard dams. A high hazard dam is defined as a dam whose failure would cause a loss of life and significant property damage.
- The rehabilitation cost for Alaska's most critical dams is estimated at $7.3 million

Drinking Water: Alaska's drinking water infrastructure needs $585.2 million over the next 20 years

Wastewater: Alaska has $560 million in wastewater infrastructure needs.


- 69% of Alaska's schools have at least one inadequate building feature.
- 80% of Alaska's schools have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition.

Governor Sarah Palin has allocated $1.8 billion in FY 2008 Capital Budget to address these issues.

Commentary: When people lambast Alaska's Congressional delegation as being "kings of pork" and our proposed bridges as "Bridges To Nowhere", all they're thinking about is their selfish parochial interests and not looking at the big picture. One of the reasons our Congressional delegation delivers so many goods is so our roads don't crumble and our bridges don't collapse. The Glenn Highway between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, along with the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward, are our two most heavily traveled roads in the state. They are so heavily traveled that ruts appear in the road just two years after re-surfacing.

The Knik Arm Bridge will reduce the pressure on the Glenn Highway and lengthen its useful life. However, Alaska is a geographically-active zone, and we need to make sure that bridge is constructed well enough not only to withstand most earthquakes, but also constant tidal pressure from the Cook Inlet. It takes MONEY to make it happen, and since 77% of our state's land is OFF LIMITS to state taxation, even though the off-limits land gets state services, then that pork becomes a necessity rather than a luxury.

You want us Alaskans to pay more of our own way, cheechakos? Here's a clue. Convince your Congresscritter to allow us to open up ANWR for exploration and responsible development. If you want to argue that Stevens and Young are ethically-challenged because of their legal troubles, I won't give you that much of an argument. But don't call them "kings of pork" until you've educated yourself about Alaska.

No comments:

Post a Comment