The collapse earlier this month of the I-35 bridge into Minneapolis has underscored the need for renewed investment in transportation infrastructure nationwide--it's clear now that an earthquake is not the only danger facing older structures like the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The nation's long-term failure to adequately invest in roads and bridges has a deferred cost--a debt that may be coming due.
In the aftermath of the incident, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters urged state transportation departments to conduct inspections of 756 bridges similar to the ill-fated steel-deck truss bridge. The Minneapolis bridge, which was built in 1967, rose about 64 feet above the river and stretched about 1,900 feet across the water with a single 458-foot-long span to avoid interference with river navigation. Questions about the cause of the collapse and whether it could have been prevented continue to arise, although local officials have been quick to assure the public that a similar collapse here is very unlikely.
Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge was "structurally deficient," yet they relied on patchwork repairs and stepped-up inspections that unraveled with a calamitous sudden drop of concrete, bodies and automobiles. The tragic collapse is sure to engender a new round of bridge inspections across the country; hopefully, it will also engender renewed debate about the need for transportation investments.
Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community’s largest transportation planning effort.