Burning Bridges

Without question, America’s infrastructure is literally crumbling. But it also needs major investments in new construction. John Oliver delivered this unforgettable piece about where funding for American roads and bridges comes from and why politicians are simply failing to provide enough funding.

After the 1950’s and President Eisenhower’s major highway investment programs, much of the country’s infrastructure hasn’t changed. In fact, our speeding laws and speeding limits haven’t changed much (if at all) since the 1950’s and 1960’s. Civil engineers have since developed new and innovative ways to build highways that are designed for motorists to travel at 75 – 85 mph speeds but politicians and federal regulators insist on keeping speeding limits arbitrarily low. Need a primary source? I recently worked on a project reconstructing the Staten Island Expressway. The new highway we built was designed for cars to travel at 75 mph but, per law and contract, the posted speed limit is just 50 mph.

But it’s not just our highway laws that are antiquated. The build quality of American infrastructure is decaying and politicians are doing virtually nothing to make the necessary repairs needed to keep highways and bridges operational. Not too long ago (2007), the Minneapolis Bridge collapsed due to structural failures and maximum load capacities. The investigative report yielded the following:

From the reconstructed design and detailing information, it is less clear why the gusset plate thickness at locations U8, L13, and U14 were chosen.

(Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20101222190748/http://ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/2008/H08_1_Design_Adequacy_Report.pdf)

In simpler terms, a steel plate used to connect two beams together (that form the truss) was too thin and eventually gave way to the weight on the bridge.

Unlike Minneapolis, New York is lucky. Within the past two to three years, New York State and City agencies invested billions of dollars dedicated to reconstructing or repairing its aging infrastructure. The Goethals Bridge, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Kosciuszko Bridge, and the Bayonne Bridge are all being replaced with completely new structures. This is nice, considering that most of these bridges were built almost 60 years ago and many of them required significant amounts of repairs over the years just to keep them operational. But this isn’t enough.

A report published in October 2014 showed that “Nearly half – 47 percent –of New York’s locally maintained roads are in need of rehabilitation, preservation or reconstruction.” (Source: http://www.tripnet.org/docs/NY_Local_Roads_and_Bridges_TRIP_Report_Oct_2014.pdf)

Just to recap the endemic problems facing America’s infrastructure: First, our highways and bridges are decaying and we’re barely keeping up fixing them. Second, some of our infrastructure is so bad, it needs to be entirely replaced. But just when you thought the game of catch-up couldn’t get worse, we haven’t even began to delve into the problems of traffic congestion on these ailing roads. But we’ll keep that for another blog post.