Thursday, November 5, 2009

Failing bridges

The Bay Bridge that carries upwards of 260,000 vehicles a day failed again last week. Metal parts in a brace that was installed Labor Day weekend to relieve stress on a cracked structural beam called an eyebar cracked and the bridge had to be closed. It sent 5,000 pounds of metal into rush-hour traffic. (Miraculously no one was killed, one person suffered minor injuries and three cars were damaged.) The first repair cost an estimated $1.5 million. The second repair had the bridge closed for six days, the longest closure for the bridge since part of the span collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Caltrans doesn't yet have figures available on cost of the second round of bridge repairs. The Bay Bridge was built in the 1930's and is in need of constant repair. According to the Associated Press, "The parts that failed had been installed over the Labor Day weekend...[and] were expected to last until a new bridge opened in 2013."

Why would the American taxpayer possibly be in favor of spending billions to build infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan when America's own infrastructure is falling apart? Deteriorating bridges have been in the news of late, but in the next few years expect to see a deluge of stories about disintegrating and failing urban water systems. Most water mains in major United States cities, especially east of the Mississippi River, are approaching their useful age limits. Far too little has been spent on their maintenance in recent decades. Yet America is pouring billions into providing potable water to Iraqi and Afghani citizens.

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