The knowledge of the need to invest serious taxpayer dollars in the renovation of the aging highway system in the U.S. has been in the public domain for at least 20 years now. But as is the case with so many emerging issues of importance, in America we tend to put things off until there is a jolting realization of imminent crisis before we choose to act.
Unfortunately there is no quick fix to the situation now. Even if we decide to throw all the needed money (an estimated $188 billion dollars today) at the bridges already identified as being deficient in the U.S., the reality is that it will take more than a generation to get that needed work done. And of course by then, there will be that many more bridges to repair or rebuild.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is the agency on the hot seat at the moment for not opting to bolt reinforcing steel plates onto the steel girders where inspections had identified fatigue fractures in the 35W bridge that collapsed two days ago and killed at least 5 people. The bridge was identified as being "structurally deficient" but not necessarily unsafe, they say.
It is not my style or intent to play the blame game. I fully respect the ability of those MnDot folks to do their jobs. Unfortunately, the department decision-makers will have this tragedy eating away at them for the remainder of their days.
In the meantime, we need to pay attention to what this means to us today and in the future. In Minnesota alone, there are 13,026 bridges. They are all subject to regular inspections and as many as 1,042 have been tagged as being "structurally deficient"! That's 8% of the state's bridges.
Think you're in better shape if you live elsewhere? Guess again. A whopping 12% of the nation's bridges are "structurally deficient."
Think about that next time you are driving over a bridge.
As a nation, we are starting to reap what we have sown. We have chosen not to adequately invest in the upkeep of our highway infrastructure. Repairing bridges that look just fine to the untrained eye does not normally qualify as a popular use of our state and federal dollars, so we have dangerously been putting off what we should have been doing for many years already--repairing and rebuilding bridges.
So what now? I'm of course in the business of selling people some measure of increased peace of mind. That's what preparedness is about. So I know there is a very strong need out there for confidence in our day-to-day systems and surroundings in America. We want safety in our world. We fully expect it in this great nation. We hate surprises. We especially despise surprises that kill innocent people.
In the near future, we will of course be seeing more money invested in highway and bridge maintenance. Probably not nearly enough at this point since this was but one localized incident. Before a genuine public outcry is raised and the politics take on a life of their own, sadly, more bridge failures will need to occur.
Bottom line for today--this is not the kind of thing the average citizen can prepare for on his or her own. You CAN carry in your vehicle a first aid kit and one of those small emergency hammers to help you break your vehicle glass from the inside if you find yourself trapped after an accident or underwater.
But beyond that, I fear, we are going to have to deal with some growing level of uncertainty about the roads we traverse daily ... probably for the rest of our lives ... since the overwhelming number of potentially dangerous bridges out there are already beyond our ability to rectify in the near-term.
See: MnDOT Feared Cracking in Bridge but Opted Against Making the Repairs
Get Ready, Seriously ... www.safecastleroyal.com