Thursday, November 3, 2011

More Evidence of U.S. Infrastructure Collapse: 3,538 Bridges Closed in 2010

image: the Sherman Minton Bridge over the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky...closed indefinitely.

I haven't yet written much about the rapid deterioration of America's car-centric infrastructure, so I thought I'd remedy the situation by calling your attention to a very good article from Bloomberg this week on the subject:
Jim Benton, a Jeffersonville, Indiana, jewelry-store owner, says sales fell 40 percent in two weeks after the Sherman Minton Bridge connecting his border community to customers in Kentucky closed Sept. 9.

Fifteen miles from the bridge’s Kentucky side, officials at United Parcel Service Inc.’s Worldport, the world’s largest automated package-handling facility, say they’ve used software to reroute trucks with no substantial impact. That’s not so easy for Benton, who said he’s keeping longer hours and buying less merchandise for the holiday season.

Benton’s plight is playing out for small businesses across the U.S., where 3,538 bridges were closed in 2010, as customers shop elsewhere rather than take detours. With the average U.S. bridge seven years from the end of its useful life, and one-fourth of 600,000 crossings classified by regulators as “structurally deficient,” more places will be hurt by closings, said Barry LePatner, founder of LePatner & Associates LLP, a New York-based construction law and consulting firm.
Let me repeat the most important factoid from that last paragraph so that everyone recognizes the full implications of its meaning: the average U.S. bridge is a mere SEVEN YEARS from the end of its useful life. Sounds like we're facing an imminent collapse of the entire system, doesn't it?

So, you might ask, how much in the hole are we, cost-wise, as far as correcting this problem?
The average U.S. bridge is 43 years old, while the average useful life is generally about 50 years, according to the highway agency. The agency said in 2006 that it would cost $140 billion to immediately repair every deficient bridge in the U.S. That’s more than three times what the U.S. government receives in taxes annually to pay for road, mass transit and bridge projects.
Given the above, how exactly did we manage to borrow and spend $700 billion on President Hopey-Changey's utterly futile Recovery Act without correcting this problem? Wasn't all of that loot supposed to have been invested in "shovel ready" projects? You don't suppose it was because it is more profitable for corporate America to build new roadways rather than to repair old ones, do you? Gawd, you're such a cynic.

All we've managed to do is run the federal deficit up to unsustainable levels without fixing the problem. As Scott Adams once wrote in his Dilbert comic strip: "don't step in the leadership."

This is just another way that Obama has been a colossal disaster for the nation that elected him. It was bad enough to place the country far more deeply in debt trying to sustain our unsustainable car-centric economic model. It's far worse that the money was spent so incompetently.

Bonus: sorry, I couldn't resist.


  1. Have you ever seen somebody fall off of a treadmill. It's usually a case of the treadmill going to fast and then something happens (like they drop their iPod) and they lose their concentration. They try to recover, but can't catch up and off they go. Assuming nobody gets hurt, it's pretty funny.

    Our infrastructure situation has that feel to it. The pace of required maintenance is faster than we can really keep up with, so we are struggling. At some point, I suspect we will just go over the edge. Maybe it will be multiple bridge or tunnel failures in short order. Maybe a storm that should be weathered will take down a couple of bridges. Who knows? But it just seems like we are likely to get further and further behind until, whoops, off we go. At that point, what happens? How do people react? How does government react? Can they do anything even if they wanted to?

    Whatever happens, it probably won't be anywhere near as funny as the treadmill.

  2. @bmerson - great analogy. And I actually knew a guy who blew out his knee falling on a treadmill. Not funny at all.

  3. It's a Road to Nowhere

  4. It's easy to blame Obama. I think there are a whole lot of people to blame and it took many years and a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle ignoring the situation (handing out tax cuts, getting us into illegal wars, rewarding their cronies with no bid contracts) to get in the mess we are in today.

  5. The American Society of Civil Engineers lists the cost at $2.2 Trillion over 5 years, my rough estimate of costs after graft, crony capitalism and waste puts it at $45 Trillion over 20 years.

  6. Most cities in general lack money to build and maintain infrastructure .

  7. Obama's fault eh? What a joke. To pay for infrastructure takes TAXES and all you neoliberal cretins have been all about CUTTING taxes for thirty years, whle deregulating Wall Street so they can screw the entire world scot free.
    The irony is of course that with cheap money and abundant labour ATM now would be the perfect time to fix the problem while invigorating the economy.
    Not a chance because the retards of the Right would never allow it.
    Hope the US is looking forward to it's next civil war as people look for someone to blame when it all falls over.