The Minneapolis bridge collapse, like the failure of the New Orleans levees and, over the past few weeks, the flooding of large parts of the UK suggest that there are some things governments never learn: infrastructure is everything. (Famine in India, for example, is the result of a lack of decent storage and transport. They grow the food okay, but can’t get it anywhere before it goes off. The answer isn’t to drop our unwanted grain on them, it’s to help them build infrastructure).
Actually, I think they do learn it. The real problem is that spending money on roads, rail, flood defences and so on is unpopular because it means raising money through taxes (or, particularly in the case of the US, not spending it on foreign wars but since that is really being funded by whichever countries are financing the US overdraft, it’s a moot point).
Today in Britian the Liberal Democrats announced policies to add a £10 tax to flights and to tax road freight, raising (they say) billions of pounds to plough back in to rail. Nice policy, but the Lib Dems are good at coming up with nice policies because they know they’ll never form a government. They often come up with ‘common sense’ ideas that no government would ever act upon because one thing you can say about the electorate is they don’t like paying taxes while simultaneously demanding better services.
So in all the speculation about its causes will the bridge collapse be blamed on the Governor? Possibly. On the contractors? Perhaps. On the electorate for resisting higher taxes? On drivers for refusing duty on fuel to pay for road repairs? I wouldn’t have thought so.
From BLDGBLOG: Infrastructure is patriotic:
“The Federal Highway Administration’s annual budget appears to be hovering around $35-40 billion a year – and … annual government subsidies for Amtrak come in at slightly more than $1 billion. That’s $1 billion every year to help commuter train lines run.
To use but one financial reference point, the U.S. government is spending $12 billion per month in Iraq – billions and billions of dollars of which have literally been lost.
Infrastructure is patriotic.
There is no reason to question the political loyalties of those who would advocate spending taxpayer dollars on national infrastructure – from highway bridges and railway lines to steam pipes, levees, electrical lines, and subway tunnels – instead of on military adventures abroad.
Four months of foreign war would be enough to double the annual budget for the Federal Highway Administration – if that’s what one would choose to spend the money on – taking care of quite a few of those 81,000+ bridges which are still open to traffic and yet ‘functionally obsolete.’
Perhaps the best way to be ‘pro-American’ these days is to lobby for modern, safe, and trustworthy infrastructure – and the economic efficiencies to which that domestic investment would lead.
At the risk of promoting a kind of isolationist infrastructural nationalism, I’d say that urban design and engineering is a sadly under-appreciated – yet incredibly exciting – way to serve your country.”
And from the comments:
The solution for another bridge, whose concrete is literally falling down as people drive underneath (there’s a major highway underneath), was to put a structure underneath that catches the falling debris. Never mind the fact that the bridge might actually collapse. Maybe they hope the structure will also catch the bridge?
(Via Design Observer.)