Collapse: Does Washington Bridge Expose the Crumbling of a Nation?

Though witnesses say "miracle" nobody was killed, does incident speak to larger problem?

As the nation continues to follow the slash and burn economic policies of the austerity hawks in Washington, will a dramatic bridge collapse in Washington state renew talk of America's eroding infrastructure?

On Thursday night, a truck hit a support beam on Interstate-5 near Seattle and caused a complete section of the Skagit River Bridge to collapse, sending vehicles and their passengers into the frigid water below.

The local Stagit Valley Herald called the collapse a "disaster, but no tragedy" and described how a "large flatbed truck passed under the bridge, hitting several of the steel trusses on its way," ultimately coming to a stop "about 100 yards away from the structure on its south side." It was the other cars and trucks on the bridge that went with it as the main section fell into the river.

Speaking with local reporters, witness Romero Ortiz said, "I just find it shocking that a bridge like that would fall without any bomb going off or anything."

"...repairing roads and rail, building modern airports, keeping our broadband and energy grid at world class standards, making sure the sewers don't leak, strengthening the sinews for the extreme weather that is upon us - this isn't an ideological question. It is just common sense." -Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future

Though all involved in the collapse survived, questions on Friday are centered around how a bridge--even one categorized as by the state as "functionally obsolete"--could so easily collapse and whether or not the incident in Washington tells a larger story about the conditions of US roads and bridges.

As The Seattle Timesreports:

The bridge, built in 1955, was inspected twice last year and repairs were made, according to state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

The bridge is classified as a "fracture critical" bridge by the National Bridge Inventory.

That means one major structural part can ruin the entire bridge, as compared with a bridge that has redundant features that allow one member to fail without destroying the entire structure.

The bridge is used by an average of about 70,000 vehicles per day, 12 percent of which are trucks.

Those vehicles will now have to find another route.

And reporting by Bloomberg added:

The bridge's collapse put a new focus on the nation's failing infrastructure, an issue that President Barack Obama has highlighted in his second-term agenda. It came almost six years after a highway span fell in Minnesota at rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Last week, Obama ordered a 50 percent cut in the time it takes executive-branch agencies to start major road and bridge projects.

The president cited "an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair" during his February State of the Union speech and called for $50 billion in new spending on repairs. He described a "Fix It First" program to deal with the most urgent needs.

"We have some work to do on our bridges," Washington Governor Jay Inslee told reporters at the wrecked span, amid floodlights that lit up twisted, half-submerged pieces. "We have maintenance needs that are significant across our state."

In 2007, the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing thirteen people and injuring nearly 150. Following that incident and the public outcry it generated, promises were made to improve infrastructure spending nationwide.

Yet, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse caused by Wall Street and despite economists' repeated calls for government stimulus spending that would both improve public services and create much needed jobs, little has been in done in Washington as purveyors of austerity--who argue (without evidence) for the wisdom of cuts to government spending--continue to dominate the debate and obstruct progress.

Ironically, just hours before the I-5 bridge collapse in Washington on Thursday, Robert Borosage, director of the Campaign for American's Future, tackled this exact subject by writing:

There is an idiocy about our current national politics that is simply stupefying. We are sitting idly, watching, and suffering, as our nation disintegrates into a run-down backwater. Our airports are a global disgrace. Our railroads, broadband, energy grid are all outmoded by international standards. A bridge falls every other day. Our sewage systems are overwhelmed by normal use, and collapse in the extreme weather that has become the national norm. Sinkholes now are becoming a life-threatening peril.

At the same time, over 20 million people are in need of full-time work. The construction industry has still not recovered from the housing collapse. The federal government can borrow money at interest rates near zero. Yet instead of grabbing this opportunity to rebuild the country, Washington is focused on cutting budgets, an austerity that clearly costs jobs and impedes the recovery.

And concluded:

...repairing roads and rail, building modern airports, keeping our broadband and energy grid at world class standards, making sure the sewers don't leak, strengthening the sinews for the extreme weather that is upon us - this isn't an ideological question. It is just common sense.

That this isn't getting done now reveals exactly how extreme, how corrupt, and how destructive our current politics are.


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