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A Bridge Too Far…From Stable…

Spotlight on Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

Today begins a multi-part series on the implications of the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster. The preceding days of silence from WMassP&I on the issue were spent, in part, researching and reading the headlines in order offer WMassP&I’s first spotlight issue, which will carry the themes of this tragedy over into our other serials. Stay tuned for more on that.

Now onto the meat and potatoes. Last Wednesday, August 1, the I-35W Highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during the late evening rush. The bridge was not operating at full capacity due to resurfacing, which was underway at the time. Questions are now surfacing what role the weight of the construction materials may have played. People may remember the historic collapse of the West Side Highway in Manhattan, which gave under the weight of a truck carrying repair materials.

Anyway, the bridge had been certified as safe by past inspections, with only the deck needed replacement by 2020. OR SO WE THOUGHT.

However, the stories of heroism and low fatality count belie the appalling fact that bridges, particularly those not that old could come tumbling to earth so easily. While there is a reasonable concern about the load the structures bear relative to their intend design, it also emphasizes the woefully inadequate ways our nation maintains and upgrades existing structures.

Sunday’s New York Times Editorial described how politicians today are not interested, especially in times of fiscal crises in repair infrastructure “named for somebody else.” There is far more enthusiasm to build a great shining new structure while the old one, still being used, crumbles beneath drivers’ wheels. Even the recovery plan, which calls for replacing the I-35W Bridge and building some new light rail lines and such (a good idea) fails to address overhauls of other structures.

Unfortunately, the change will not come about by laying guilt on politicians. It can only come within them. They write the budgets and while they did not initiate the act of God or Entropy that took down a bridge and 5 souls to the bottom of the Mississippi, a great deal of blame rests with them. This is not an exclusively Minnesotan problem either. All 50 governors, and all 50 legislatures, and Congress and the President need to play the necessary part.

That part may also call for more money. Yes, paying more in taxes somewhere, whether it is at the pump or on April 15 is a pain, but is it worth dying for? I’m sure that the families of the dead will rest easier knowing that their country men’s stinginess and legislators’ cowardice is partly to blame.

Well, as I have alienated politicians and my fellow countrymen enough, I turn now to the local connection. The North End Bridge connecting Springfield to West Springfield and carrying US Route 20 is the only bridge in the immediate area that is of similar construction to the I-35W Bridge. Although bridges in Chicopee and Northampton have been reevaluated as part of a precaution. These events are of particular concern as Western Mass frequently gets the shaft on transportation projects including maintenance. For the moment, there is no reason to suspect any concern about Springfield’s main CT River Bridges, nor the three Interstate Highway Bridges over the CT. I-291, which crosses the Chicopee River is near completion of recent roadwork and the main Indian Orchard, Ludlow bridge was rehabbed in the last year. Several small bridges that pass over brooks and streams or minor necks of the Chicopee and Westfield rivers are probably under municipalities’ control and have not made any local headlines.

WMassP&I’s coverage of this event will continue tomorrow and the next day with special editions of Boston Beat and Oh, No! 0-8! before wrapping up with some more details on local impact.