This week, the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, collapsed during a storm. At least 25 people were killed when 260 feet of the span came loose and dropped about 150 feet to the ground below. The search for survivors continues. The bridge is on a major highway that connects Italy with France. It was built in the 1960s.
While I acknowledge the extreme tragedy of the loss of life, I don’t think this is going to be the “wake up call” for the US government to get to work on infrastructure that I want it to be. While tragic, it also happened across the Atlantic, on another continent and won’t generate enough concern on American shores.
It was a “wake up call” for the State of Minnesota when the I-35 bridge in downtown Minneapolis collapsed 11 years ago. That bridge had been rated by the Department of Transportation as structurally deficient (aging and in need of repair) and fracture critical (a single vital component could fail and cause a collapse). 13 people lost their lives. The cause of the bridge failure was determined by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to be a design flaw.
According to an NPR article, “The I-35W bridge was rebuilt within 14 months. Nancy Daubenberger, the director of engineering services for the Minnesota Department of Transportation says 172 Minnesota bridges were identified as structurally deficient or fracture critical. About 35 of them were determined to need only routine, preventative maintenance. About 120 of them have been repaired or replaced, while the 18 remaining bridges are either under construction now and/or are on track to be repaired or replaced before next summer’s deadline.”
More than a decade after the I-35 bridge collapse, across the nation there are still tens of thousands of bridges that need to be repaired or replaced.
Last March, when a 174-foot long pedestrian bridge in Miami, FL, at Florida International University collapsed, six people were killed. The NTSB’s investigation into the cause is still ongoing. Still, no one seems to have led a charge toward infrastructure progress following this tragedy.
We always want the latest tragedy to be the last one. We want our outrage over the lack of funding for nation-wide infrastructure to be eased. And I don’t think we need the causes of bridge failures to be that they were old and failing. Any bridge collapse should steer us toward getting to work on the roads and bridges that need to be fixed and replaced. I’m trying to be optimistic.