Do we pay attention to roads and bridges now?

Another major collapse, this time in Washington state, should be a wake-up call about investing in the nation's failing infrastructure.

By Bruce Kennedy May 24, 2013 2:44PM

A portion of the Interstate-5 bridge collapsed into the Skagit river in Mount Vernon, Wash., on Thursday (© Joe Nicholson/AP)It's pretty miraculous no one died and only a handful of people were injured Thursday night, when the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state collapsed. Officials are blaming the collapse on an oversize truck that apparently struck one of the bridge's key supports.

But the accident should be a wake-up call that the nation's aging infrastructure -- which recently received an overall grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) -- can no longer be ignored or used as a political football. America's transportation network is too crucial to safety and economic strength.

Let's start with the Skagit River bridge. Data from the National Bridge Inventory notes the span, built in 1955, was evaluated as "functionally obsolete" during its 2010 inspection. That means it had an outdated design not up to current standards. The inventory also said the bridge needed just over $1 million in estimated repairs.

And according to The Associated Press, the ASCE gave Washington state's bridges an overall grade of C-. Even though that's above the national average, it noted that more than 25% of the state's 7,840 bridges were classified as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

What's even more disturbing is the I-5 bridge was in better shape than many major bridges in the U.S. According to Federal Highway Administration records examined by Bloomberg News last year, about 18,000 American bridges are classified as fracture-critical, meaning a failure of one part of the structure would probably cause a portion or the entire bridge to collapse.

Business Insider published a pretty startling graph of public construction spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, and it shows such outlays at the lowest level in decades. No wonder during his State of the Union Address last year, President Barack Obama noted that much of America's infrastructure needs to be rebuilt.

"We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges," he said, "a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small-business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world."

And earlier this year, Obama also announced a three-part plan to encourage private investment in public infrastructure, including $50 billion in investment that would, according to White, reduce the backlog "of deferred maintenance on highways, bridges, transit systems, and airports nationwide."

While we wait for that, the collapse of the I-5 bridge will not only inconvenience the tens of thousands of people who use it daily, but it's also disrupting a major freight route between the U.S. and Canada. I-5 is an "artery of commerce and industry for the entire state of Washington," in the words of Governor Jay Inslee.

And here's something else to ponder next time you drive across a major bridge in traffic: We're coming up on the sixth anniversary of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. That disaster killed 13 people and injured 145 others when the span fell into the Mississippi River. Six years ago, it raised questions about America's infrastructure woes -- which haven't been answered yet and are still making headlines.

More on moneyNOW

May 24, 2013 4:02PM

Sure, let's invest in the infrastructure.  Got any cash? 


We can't even have White House tours or let the Navy fly their own jets over their graduation.  Obviously we are too broke to take care of anything in our country. 


Now if you're in Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Niger, Jordan, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Mozambique, Uzbekistan, or the Phillipines, we'll send you all kinds of billions.


Fix a bridge in Washington?!?  Nope, too damn expensive.

May 24, 2013 4:02PM

The money just isn't there.

It was there to build these bridges and roads, but isn't there anymore.

This is also true of the sewer plants, underground water and gas lines and electrical substations.

They all have been neglected for years. Some in my city are 100 years old and water main breaks run rampant during the winter months.

The electrical grid is the most alarming, in my opinion. We are a major transformer malfunction away from chaos. These transformers take years to build, and there ain't any sitting in a warehouse somewhere........

May 25, 2013 11:43AM
Politicians are too busy appropriating money for Solyndra type scams and billionaire team owners for new stadiums.  They don't have time to worry about silly things like infrastructure.
May 25, 2013 12:49PM
Steve in CO has the only comment that makes sense. We're sending billions that we don't even have all over the world, while America falls apart. Sad.  Our government has failed us in so many ways, it boggles the mind.  Even worse, nobody cares...10 comments on this story?? Post a story about a Kardashian, Bieber, or some other low-life and watch the comment board light up...
May 25, 2013 2:16AM

The democrats who slammed Bush for having the wrong priorities in spending when the bridge collapsed in Minnesota 6 years ago are now silent after Obama has wasted even more of our money on even less productive programs since he has been in office.


I should also mention that if we tried to build a bridge like the Brooklyn or Golden Gate we could afford it because unionized labor today.

May 27, 2013 12:39PM

Excuse me, wasn't this bridge brought down by being hit by an oversized truck that took out supports?


Sorry, we listened to these imbecile democrats and blew through 6+ trillion in infrastructure spending and didn't do squat but reward their campaign contributors.


Before we spend one dime more, we need to FIRE Obama's 29 Czars and their 1200 patronage workers who have done nothing for the last 4 years!

May 24, 2013 5:15PM
Two wars and corporate welfare and no tax paying corporations . For over a decade now and gee them repukes and dems are taking care of the USA baby.. Borrowing at record pace , putting America farther and farther in debt ! LMFAO i get better representation from my union than congress from any party.. LMFAO...
May 24, 2013 9:55PM

The federal government is promising to help Washington state rebuild a bridge that collapsed after a truck hauling an oversized load of drilling equipment hit an overhead girder on the major interstate between Seattle and Canada.



Lets remove all of the guardrails while we're at it.  Seems cars keep running into them.

May 27, 2013 4:29PM
Reading the comments, I fail to see how this is a GOP or Dem problem. Both parties should be onboard. This does not conflict with either parties mandate

Spending money on infrastructure would employ professional engineers, technicians, and general labourers. If these projects were subcontracted to domestic companies with specification to employ american and have a high % of american resources (ie. US steel, ...) this would stimulate the economy on a number of different levels:

1. Companies would have better earning, which would result in better compensation to employees and have more money to pay on taxes.

2. People would be employed with decent paying jobs. Less gov subsidies and more tax income for the gov.

3. Improve infrastructure would mean improve efficiency and productivity. More money in the private and public pocket. (also potential benefits to make infrastructure environmentally friendlier)

Also, we constantly hear about the brain drain. How fewer and fewer Americans are committed to engineering and science careers -- and the need to import from abroad (IMHO, because they are under compensated for the type of intelligence required to work in those industries). Here is an opportunity to keep that brain drain from continuing and keep manufacturing and development domestic. 
May 25, 2013 3:57PM
Transportation is a cornerstone of our economy. We need to fund it. How to do so is the major question since additional taxes are unpopular. Putting priorities on the benefits/needs of all (defense, education, law enforcement, transportation, etc.) and ensuring funding for these items first would help. Eliminating tax breaks for corporations, businesses and individuals which favor just a segment of the population would provide funds. In addition, elimination of tax deductions on interest, donations, promotional activities would add to the coffers necessary to fund the priorities. They would also recognize individual decision making on priorities. 
May 28, 2013 8:29AM

Yes the Bridge was brought down by an Accident of an oversized load....

Not by bridge or structure failure..

I would assumed a trucking company, driver or insurance company; Is on the hook or should be ??

May 28, 2013 8:23AM

What we are spending on Two Wars per year, even though One is winding down....

Will build one hell of lot of Bridges..

And the Defense, bungle on the F-35s(sp), should put in a few miles of highways...

I even heard/read that that Airforce or Navy....Didn't really need or want them..??

May 26, 2013 1:45AM
The money is there; the jobs bill is mired in congress, a congress controlled by the republicans. Lets close those corporate tax loop holes, slow defense spending, (wars are expensive). These jobs would be good paying jobs that would add to revenue and help our economy.
May 27, 2013 2:45PM
Hey Obama, how about cutting those welfare checks a little more and put people back to work by building some bridges.
May 28, 2013 12:37PM
This did not happen because of ageing infrastructure a truck hitting the support beam caused it. We should not give the kenyan any more $ to just throw away like he has been doing. He needs to keep a better eye on his daughter and keeping her off of crack.
May 24, 2013 4:50PM
The republican House feels another vote on repealing Obamacare is more important than fixing bridges or highways.  You would think that after spending 15% of their time in the last 4 1/2  years voting on the repeal of Obamacare  and failing 37 times they would move forward.  I guess the states with republicans congressional leaders are in agreement with their Reps and Senators that bridges and federal disaster aide, and crumbling roads should never be replaced or repaired. Republicans want tax cuts for the 2%ers so the job creators can create more jobs using the monies of the middle class by passing a law increasing the tax on the middle class.
May 25, 2013 8:54AM
Even Rumsfeld admitted that the Pentagon couldn't account for 2.3 TRILLION dollars when he and Bush were in office. That's 2.3 Trillion dollars.

In 2003, the Defense Department Controller General stated that the Pentagon couldn't account for a trillion in spending.

This just the Defense side of things, guess how much they were wasting elsewhere. Guess how much money they gave away to Big Oil.

But they can't find money to fix our roads and bridges. They couldn't find time to investigate Bush and Company but lately,surprise surprise, their only focus is waste and corruption. Where was that focus during the corrupt Bush years.

May 25, 2013 3:02AM
The GOP is too busy worrying about where Obama eats, sleeps, and drink. The GOP is too worried about having yet another vote to repeal ObamaCares. The only thing the GOP cares about, taking over Congress and the White House so that they can make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. Fix a bridge, they are too busy trying to pin anything and everything on Obama. Forget jobs and fixing healthcare. Forget about making sure more Americans are making a living wage. The GOP relies on suckers voting for them. Lucky for them, plenty of fools here in America willing to be a fool for them. Who cares if the country is literally falling apart as they run a 24/7 attack on Obama. The GOP doesn't care about you, why should you care about them?
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