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Portion of I-5 Bridge North of Seattle Collapses

Via CBS News:  No fatalities in I-5 bridge collapse in NW Wash.

An Interstate 5 bridge over a river north of Seattle collapsed Thursday evening, dumping several vehicles into the water as authorities investigated the cause of the collapse that cut off the state’s main north-south thruway and sent three people to the hospital.

[…]

The bridge is not considered structurally deficient but is listed as being "functionally obsolete" — a category meaning that their design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders are low clearance underneath, according to a database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.

The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.

According to a 2012 Skagit County Public Works Department, 42 of the county’s 108 bridges that are 50 years or older. The document says eight of the bridges are more than 70 years old and two are over 80.

Washington state was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state’s bridges. The group said more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient of functionally obsolete.

Thankfully, no one was killed.  The culprit for causing the collapse may have been an oversized load.

However, this is just another reminder about problems in our infrastructure.  Major bridges and such are supposed to collapse in poor, underdeveloped countries, not in an economic superpower.  On the one hand, accidents happen and perfection is an impossibility.  On the other, as noted above, we know that thousands of bridges across the country are potentially problematic, not to mention it stands to reason that a bridge build in 1955 might not be up to the traffic levels of 2013 (or in the NAFTA era in general).

That we did not direct substantial stimulus spending in this direction remains, to my mind, a key failure of the last half decade or so.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Caj says:

    This is one of many more that may collapse because spending on infrastructure is a no no for Republicans! Can’t spend another penny more as the government is out of control over spending! Their words not mine of course. Hell, who cares if bridges fall down and people die by falling into deep waters, we just can’t have another red cent spent to fix them. But hey, if we can find another war somewhere to wage we’ll be right there with a blank check!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  2. PJ says:

    This is just the invisible hand of the market telling people to drive somewhere else!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  3. john personna says:

    How oversiized a load? A “good bridge” should still fail at say twice rated capacity. To build it stronger than that is a waste.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  4. PJ says:

    Keynesian economists prefer to build a bridge twice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Caj:

    Caj, as a strong progressive democrat myself, I have to ask…how the hell is this the Republican’s fault? Seriously? At what point over the last 2 decades–in which both parties have been in power–has there been a strong push for overhauling our aging transportation and energy infrastructure?

    Only one opportunity comes to mind–the stimulus–passed by a Democratic House and Senate, and implemented under a Democratic president. The amount of actual infrastructure rebuilding it did was laughable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  6. john personna says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    The right way to look at it is statistical rates of failure, anyway. That is the only way to look past weirdness in a specific example. An over-capacity bridge itself has a statistical likelihood of failure, rather than an on-off switch.

    The bridge failures that make the news are rare enough that it makes me think this is another case where we are actually very safe, but that our dread is outsized for the situation. Not to mention that each rare failure is seen as “political.”

    In “national rank for bridge failure” we are probably very good. We are not China.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    On a personal note, I was in Washington for 2 weeks on business, ending last week. While there I sat through a meeting regarding soil areas in danger of liquification if there were to be an earthquake. Many of those areas including some heavily trafficked bridges on I-5. On my way back to the hotel, as I was crossing over the Skagit river bridge, I thought to myself “This, and the bridge just north of Everett will be the first to go.”

    I was right, just not for the right reasons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. @Neil Hudelson: Great point!

    Although to be fair, what little infrastructure spending came out of the stimulus was met with howls of derision from the Tea Party types and there was very little chance of getting more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. @john personna:

    An over-capacity bridge itself has a statistical likelihood of failure, rather than an on-off switch.

    No. If a particular set of circumstances occurs, it’s either going to make the bridge collapse or it isn’t. There’s nothing random about it. The only thing you could describe as statistical is modeling of how often that particular set of circumstance is to occur.

    That is, you can figure out how statistically the expected lifespan before a load big enough to collapse the bridge appears, but once that load starts driving across the bridge, it is going to certainly collapse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. @Caj:

    This is one of many more that may collapse because spending on infrastructure is a no no for Republicans!

    Washington isn’t exactly a Republican stronghold, so if they’re solely to blame for the lack of infrastructure spending, what’s stopping Washington from spending appropriate amounts on it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  11. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Come on, are you telling me there is no middle ground between “will pass” and “will fail?”

    That defies logic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  12. john personna says:

    (In most mechanical systems the distance between “will pass” and “will fail” will be large. And of course abuse of the design in that range will contribute cumulative damage.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  13. Todd says:

    If you read the comments following this story on some rightward leaning websites, this is just further proof that the stimulus didn’t work. I mean seriously, we spent all that money and bridges are still collapsing … the government is obviously incompetent.

    … what’s funny is that many of the people who make those sort of comments are also the ones who howl the loudest about semi-private toll roads and bridges … which is really the only alternative to updating our infrastructure if it’s not politically viable to do it with tax dollars.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. gVOR08 says:

    Major bridges and such are supposed to collapse in poor, underdeveloped countries, not in an economic superpower.

    If you elect Republicans, you have to expect a certain amount of this sort of thing. (Yes, Oregon is Dem. The “I” in the road name generally implies a fair degree of federal responsibility.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  15. rudderpedals says:

    The Tampa Bay Times’s AP piece says a truck with an oversized load (not a too heavy load) collided with structural members of the bridge. The bridge had only about 13-14′ of roadway clearance. It’s not yet clear that if the bridge had been new it would have survived the impact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    On the contrary, it is most definitely the Republican’s fault. First, liberals and the Prssident’s economists recommended a much bigger stimulus initially ($1.2-1.6M). Because the President wanted Republican votes, it was whittled down to $800M. Much of that would have been infrastructure spending. IMO, the biggest mistake of his Presidency was reducing the size of the stimulus to get Republican votes-of which he got exactly three.A year later, when the the President’s economists (and every serious economist)said more stimulus was needed, the Republicans had a filibuster-proof minority and blocked any further efforts at stimulus, which would have included infrastructure spending.
    And the original stimulus bill DID include infrastructure spending:

    K: One complaint you hear about the stimulus is that it’s not led to Hoover Dam like accomplishments. People look around and say, fine, if you spent all this money on infrastructure, where’s the infrastructure? But so many of the investments were, for lack of a better term, in digital infrastructure. You can’t see the smart grid or digitized medical records or wind power in the way you can see a mural.

    MG: It’s often invisible. Even the stuff where you actually build big things — the world’s largest wind farm, a half dozen of the world’s largest solar farms — you’ll still use your X-Box the same way. The energy is just coming from somewhere different. The New Deal had the world’s largest dam. The stimulus had one of the world’s largest dam removal projects. People won’t point to that a thousand years from now.

    RTWT. One of the problems with the stimulus was the abysmal messaging of Obama Administration, which didn’t tout what it actually did.But make no mistake about it- it was and is Republican opposition to any stimulus that prevented-and still prevents-more infrastructure spending.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  17. @john personna:

    There is no middle ground between “will fail” and “won’t fail”. There will usually be unusued capacity, but that’s a policy decision not an engineering decision. That is, you may say “We expect the maximum daily weight of traffic on this route to be 100,000 pounds, so we’re going to build a bridge that can support 200,000 pounds”, but once that bridge reaches 200,000 pounds, it’s gone. It’s not like 100,010 = 99% chance of success, 100,020 pounds = 98% chance, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    It’s not like 100,010 = 99% chance of success, 100,020 pounds = 98% chance, etc.

    Do you even live in a physical world?

    The variation between actual physical materials and the abstract materials used in design alone would produce this effect. As would “inspection” and the imperfect process by which we x-ray bridges looking for cracks and cumulative stress.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. Franklin says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Although to be fair, what little infrastructure spending came out of the stimulus was met with howls of derision from the Tea Party types and there was very little chance of getting more.

    Specifically, I believe they claimed it wouldn’t get spent until after the recession was over. Perhaps they would have been technically right according to the definition of recession, but for f**k’s sake we’ve still got a lot of unemployment and bridges are falling down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. @stonetools:

    It may be true that on a nationwide level, infrastructure will decline due to Republican intransigence. But states still have the ability to fund their own infrastructure, particularly wealthier states (like Washington), would have necessarily had to have contributed a greater share to such a federal program. So unless you believe that there’s some sort of magical alchemy involved in DC government taxing Washington to pay for infrastructure vs. Olympia doing the same thing, Washington is perfectly capable of funding it’s own fixes.

    If, as you suggest, there is widespread Democratic support of infrastructure spending, rich Democrat states would be doing fine and the bridge collapses would be occurring in red states or poor states. But the fact is, neither party prioritizes infrastructure spending because there’s little votes in it. By it’s nature, people don’t notice well maintained infrastructure; they only notice it when it’s failing (if at all).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Washington isn’t exactly a Republican stronghold, so if they’re solely to blame for the lack of infrastructure spending, what’s stopping Washington from spending appropriate amounts on it?

    Ever heard of the word filibuster? Google it.

    Start with this search page.

    republicans filibuster infrastructure bill
    You’re welcome.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  22. Todd says:

    btw, my opinion about who’s to blame for why we haven’t updated more of our infrastructure is that it’s something of a mix …

    One the one side, those who claim that we’re “broke”, and therefore “can’t afford it” are extremely short-sighted, and don’t really understand economics. Money (and labor) will probably never be much “cheaper” than it’s been for the past couple of years. Fixing our infrastructure is something that will have to be done eventually, and by putting it off now, we are doing something that really may put a heavy burden on our children and grandchildren. History is very unlikely to view this generation kindly.

    On the other hand, I also can’t help but to acknowledge that the amount of environmental regulation now in place has almost certainly had a detrimental impact on the timing of updating and modernizing our infrastructure. I say this as someone who is very concerned about the way we (collectively) are abusing our planet. I just think we’re not very smart about the way we design and implement many of our regulations. “All or nothing” environmentalism is no more useful and productive to society than “all or nothing” unbridled capitalism. There’s got to be a balance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. @Todd:

    Third problem is that the funding we do have is divided up according to political power rather than need, so we end up wasting it on the Gravina Island Bridge because Steven King is from Alaska and heads the transportation committee, rather than on bridge people actually use a lot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. john personna says:

    @Todd:

    That presumes that (a) total failures are or will shortly be at an unacceptable level, and (b) even then the investment faces no opportunity cost.

    ie. you would save more lives with bridge repair than cancer research.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Maryland funded a jobs and infrastructure bill recently, so some of it is getting done. But states have to by law balance their budgets so they can’t fund the really big projects , which have be done through deficit funding. The Feds can do that-they can borrow money at practically zero interest rates now. But the economic cretins in the Republican Party block all attempts to do that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. john personna says:

    After all, would this not suggest adequate spending?

    Highway Deaths Per Mile Fall To Lowest Level On Record

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  27. @stonetools:

    which have be done through deficit funding

    Right. They have to be done through deficit funding, because (as I’ve said three times now) neither party wants to spend money on it. The disagreement is only over whether we should not do it at all, or do it and not pay for it. Neither party actually wants to shift a larger portion of our resources to infrastructure spending.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  28. @john personna:

    Even then, there’s just an error in our ability to measure where the failure point is. That doesn’t make it a statistical failure point. It’s not like you could put a particular load on the bridge five times and the first four nothing happens and the fifth time the bridge collapses because we just got unlucky that time. Either a particular load is going to collapse the bridge or it isn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    That presumes that (a) total failures are or will shortly be at an unacceptable level, and (b) even then the investment faces no opportunity cost.

    ie. you would save more lives with bridge repair than cancer research.

    Indeed. In Beijing you can build just about anything and everything. But if you wear a white shirt outside, it turns grey inside an hour. Lung cancer rates are going to be phenomenal there in a few years. Do you really want to make that trade off?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    So now you have a semantic argument? Get over yourself.

    The variation in weight bearing ability of an I-beam, new or 50 years old, is not known. It has a variation around a mean. That makes it a statistical strength. Anything build out of many such I-beams will have a cumulative statistical strength. Now, this will be halved, or whatever the rule is, and be called the “rated capacity.” But that does not make the failure “point” a fixed point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  31. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    Basically the fact that we are at an all time high for highway safety calls BS on this and every similar thread across the internets today.

    People are being stupid and emotional.

    There is no current problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. Todd says:

    @john personna:

    That presumes that (a) total failures are or will shortly be at an unacceptable level, and (b) even then the investment faces no opportunity cost.

    ie. you would save more lives with bridge repair than cancer research.

    Why does it have to be an either/or between infrastructure and cancer research?

    The cost of long-term borrowing by the U.S. government has been at historically low levels (negative real interest rates) for several years now. At the same time unemployment has been at historically high levels.

    The fact that ideological fighting has prevented our government from recognizing, and taking advantage of this (possibly once in a lifetime) opportunity to fix our aging infrastructure at a relatively low cost (and with many positive side effects … such as lowering the unemployment rate) is almost criminal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. @Franklin: I heard a lot of “You can’t stimulate the economy fixing bridges” stuff myself, which is funny because the work would be contracted out to a private company, who no doubt would have found the effort stimulative.

    I also remember a lot of complaints in 03 and 04 that the media was focusing on only the bad things in Iraq. They weren’t talking about all the schools and roads and bridges we were building over there, also at great cost to the taxpayer.

    So maybe we can’t say the Republicans don’t favor spending money on infrastructure. Just that they prefer not to spend that money here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  34. john personna says:

    @Todd:

    You are correct that we have the ability to borrow more, that doesn’t automatically put bridge repair in the top 10 investment opportunities.

    As I say, the fact that we are at an all time high in highway safety leads me to believe that opportunities are elsewhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  35. Andre Kenji says:

    1-) Frankly, I don´t remember any bridge in a large inhabited area collapsing in Brazil or in any other area of Latin America. And that´s the SECOND bridge in recent years that collapses in a major interstate highway in a major metropolitan area in the US.

    2-) The problem goes beyond Democrats and Republicans, or even the stimulus. The problem is that keeping highways are pretty expensive: that´s why there are these gas taxes in Europe, that´s why highway tolls in Latin America are pretty expensive(Sometimes, more than five dollars to travel 20, 30 miles).

    Few people would manage to build houses in the middle of nowhere if people had to pay for the REAL COST of driving. Part of the problem is that people are not paying for that, and few people would gasp the tolls and gas taxes necessary to keep a stable highway system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  36. john personna says:

    (I mean, in a sense we did take the money we could have spent on building even stronger bridges, and spent it on air-bags instead. That was probably a good investment choice.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Right. They have to be done through deficit funding, because (as I’ve said three times now) neither party wants to spend money on it. The disagreement is only over whether we should not do it at all, or do it and not pay for it

    With deficit spending, you do pay for it-just later, when the economy is recovering and can better bear the burden of higher taxes.
    You’ve fallen into the trap of thinking there is something morally wrong about deficit funding. There isn’t.That’s just faulty conservative reasoning.
    To get through WW2, the US government went through the biggest binge of deficit spending in history-and later paid it all back. Was that wrong? Of course not.
    Now if we could only declare a “war on crumbling infrastructure…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. @john personna:

    But that does not make the failure “point” a fixed point.

    Yes it does. Our lack of knowledge about some aspect of reality doesn’t change the nature of reality. There is some specific critical force that is going to cause that I-beam to shear. We may only be able to approximately estimate what that force will be, but that doesn’t change the fact it is some specific value based on the state of the beam. There’s not some little gremlin in the beam rolling dice to figure out when he should chew it apart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Andre Kenji says:

    @john personna:

    You are correct that we have the ability to borrow more, that doesn’t automatically put bridge repair in the top 10 investment opportunities.

    @Todd: is right. A good solution would be to simply privatize major highways. But the same people that complains about big government would be heavily opposed to it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You just don’t understand, do you?

    You can test “an i-beam”, but you cannot disassemble a bridge, destructively test every i-beam, and the put it back together with the same i-beams.

    PJ’s joke above is all about that impossibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  41. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    As I say, the fact that we are at an all time high in highway safety leads me to believe that opportunities are elsewhere.

    Highways aren’t bridges though. Some highways go across bridges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. Todd says:

    @john personna:

    You are correct that we have the ability to borrow more, that doesn’t automatically put bridge repair in the top 10 investment opportunities.

    Fair enough, I definitely see your point.

    Personally, I would probably put clean-energy research higher on the list than infrastructure repair. But the “criminal” part of my rant had more to do with the fact that we don’t seem to be investing in ANYTHING that may have long-term benefits to society.

    As a father of young children, that both scares and infuriates me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  43. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    I have been looking for any kind of national comparison on infrastructure related injuries, and have not found any yet.

    I certainly think it would be low for the US though, per 100,000 miles driven. The examples that we cite are years apart and many millions of miles are driven between.

    Remember, the way humans perceive risk is well documented as weird and irrational. The mental image of a bridge collapsing in front of you (“what if I was that guy!”) plays into all those irrationalities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  44. Todd says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    @Todd: is right. A good solution would be to simply privatize major highways. But the same people that complains about big government would be heavily opposed to it.

    Just to be clear, I didn’t say I thought it would be a “good solution” .. just that it’s really the only viable alternative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. john personna says:

    @Todd:

    We did build out some 2-way rail.

    (Rail traffic is the most efficient on land, and we get cumulative returns by doing more of it. Replacing 1-way rail, where trains have to wait for each other to pass, boosts capacity hugely.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  46. @stonetools:

    You’ve fallen into the trap of thinking there is something morally wrong about deficit funding.

    I’ve done no such thing. Observing that something is a certain way says nothing about whether that’s moral or immoral, or even if I agree or disagree with it. Stop putting words into my mouth.

    To get through WW2, the US government went through the biggest binge of deficit spending in history-and later paid it all back.

    WWII is a lousy example, it was a one time expense, so spreading the cost of it over a longer time period makes sense. Infrastructure spending has to be done every year, so eventually you’re going to have to pay for it out of current expenses. You can be done paying for WWII. You’ll never be done building new bridges.

    For an ongoing operational expense, all deficit spending does is delay the shouldering of those costs, which ends up making it less and less affordable when you finally do start paying them. If Democrats were as into infrastructure spending as you suggest, they could sell shouldering those burdens to their voters now. Washington is one of only 9 states with no state income tax. Surely those noble Democrats in Washington could, like 41 other states, institute a small income fee to pay for needed repairs to bridges and roads?

    But of course that’s not going to happen, because Democrat voters don’t actually want to pay for more infrastructure, and their elected officials no this so can only back plans that build infrastructure without increasing any costs to pay for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  47. Todd says:

    @john personna:

    Remember, the way humans perceive risk is well documented as weird and irrational. The mental image of a bridge collapsing in front of you (“what if I was that guy!”) plays into all those irrationalities.

    I totally agree. What happened in Washington shouldn’t make anybody any less likely to drive across a bridge than they would have been yesterday. The odds that even the worst bridge will fail at the precise moment you happen to be crossing it are extremely small … almost certainly to the point that it wouldn’t even be worth taking a different (and presumably longer) route.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. @john personna:

    As I say, the fact that we are at an all time high in highway safety leads me to believe that opportunities are elsewhere.

    Hmm….well you may have a point here, but I’m not sure highway safety should be the only measure we should be looking at here.

    Sure, we should be sure our bridges don’t collapse while we’re on them so that we may live long happy lives without getting crushed in our cars or drowning in the river.

    But we should also invest in our bridges so that we don’t have to suffer the months or years of detours during construction of the replacement, as well the costs of replacement? (I presume this stretch will, indeed, be replaced.)

    Not to sound flippant about it…..but it’s no reason to go fixing bridges because a couple might die when they collapse. We should fix bridges because cities need them to conduct their business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  49. @john personna:

    You just don’t understand, do you?

    You can test “an i-beam”, but you cannot disassemble a bridge, destructively test every i-beam, and the put it back together with the same i-beams.

    I understand that perfectly. You don’t seem to understand the distinction between a priori and a posteriori statistics.

    Our understanding of how the bridge work does not effect how the bridge actually behaves. Again, we may not be able to say what the load limit on a particular bridge is. That doesn’t mean the bridge has a random load limit that varies from one moment to the next. It only means we don’t know what that load limit is. But it still has a specific load limit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  50. john personna says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Sure, but we know that departments of transportation are attempting that, with their bridge inspections and their modeling.

    There is a lot of controversy surrounding the rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Leaving aside details, and just looking at it high-level, testing and modeling convinced someone that billions had to be spent just in that one instance, and it was.

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  51. john personna says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    That’s still stupid.

    In your mind you now have one bridge, with one set of materials. You have a totally unknown actual capacity, somewhere near (we hope) a theoretical capacity.

    You haven’t even started with weather conditions, have you?

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  52. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    For an ongoing operational expense, all deficit spending does is delay the shouldering of those costs, which ends up making it less and less affordable when you finally do start paying them. If Democrats were as into infrastructure spending as you suggest, they could sell shouldering those burdens to their voters now.

    Er, no. You might have missed it, but we are in a period of high unemployment, slack business investment, and zero interest rates. Sharply raising taxes to pay for infrastructure spending is EXACTLY the wrong thing to do now. You only think that way because again, you think deficit spending is somehow bad. There’s nothing wrong with going into debt in a crisis, which is where we are today. (The current mess is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which was ended by- you guessed it, WW2 deficit spending). Borrowing, not raising taxes, is the only sensible way to finance short term recovery and long term investment at this time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  53. Anyways, I think the real lesson here is that we need to build more bridges like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsAlzV4qSD8

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  54. @Todd:

    Just to be clear, I didn’t say I thought it would be a “good solution” .. just that it’s really the only viable alternative.

    I get what you’re saying, but I just want to clarify that while privatization may be politically acceptable to a certain faction, that doesn’t make it “viable.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  55. Franklin says:

    Update: I guess a too-tall truck hit a girder or something. Although personally I wouldn’t think the bridge would be designed to fail from just one foreseeable impact like that. And maybe a modern design wouldn’t, just this obsolete design did.

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  56. john personna says:

    @Franklin:

    I wonder if “oversize” rules have changed in those years. Perhaps there used to be a lower max height for normal loads, and now we rely (or expect trucking companies to rely) on route-planning software with bridge height information.

    There is an amazing video about “water signs” used to stop trucks that absolutely try to go into a tunnel where they will not fit: link

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  57. Andre Kenji says:

    @Todd:

    Just to be clear, I didn’t say I thought it would be a “good solution” .. just that it’s really the only viable alternative.

    I like privatization because users have to pay for the REAL costs of roads and because there is less space for graft. But other than creating high taxes for cars or for gas I really don´t see any solution for the issue. Simply using the Treasury to do that is regressive and unfair to people that does not drive. Someone that has to drive during work should pay more than the occasional driver.

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  58. Motopilot says:

    For what it’s worth, this bridge did not collapse due to being overloaded with weight. A truck with an oversized load (height) was being passed by another truck and veered to the side where his load did not clear the minimum vertical clearance. His load hit an overhead span on this steel truss bridge. The bridge was of a “fracture critical” design, meaning it could collapse if even one part failed.

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  59. john personna says:

    Scientific American tells us Scour: Why Most Bridges Fail

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  60. @Andre Kenji:

    I like privatization because users have to pay for the REAL costs of roads and because there is less space for graft.

    Hmmm…I expect a private firm will expect a profit in exchange for managing these roads. We’re talking about a cost-plus situation, not a “REAL cost” situation. Less space for graft? If there’s money to be made, there will be graft.

    Privatizing roads is an awful idea. If a private firm wants to build a road and charge a toll, I say go for it. Buy the land, raise the funds, build it, then profit. But this “socialize the costs, privatize the profits” stuff is for the birds.

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  61. Andre Kenji says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Privatizing roads is an awful idea. If a private firm wants to build a road and charge a toll, I say go for it. Buy the land, raise the funds, build it, then profit. But this “socialize the costs, privatize the profits” stuff is for the birds.

    I´m not talking about privatization per se, I´m talking about a Public Private Partnership, where there is strict regulation, contracts and where there obligations in the both sides.

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  62. matt says:

    The group said more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient of functionally obsolete.

    God knows we shouldn’t spend any money here to fix that issue across the country..

    Meanwhile where I currently live we have bridges galore that have been rated structurally insufficient for nearly a decade now including one that is 243 ft high…

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  63. @Andre Kenji:

    I´m talking about a Public Private Partnership, where there is strict regulation, contracts and where there obligations in the both sides.

    Even then, you’re talking about a firm that will expect profits. That’s fine in most circumstances, but on roads? Where will these profits come from?

    Service improvements? Beating the competition? Innovation?

    Nope….just rents.

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  64. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Those “partnerships” are usually a scam. First too-big-to-fails were the railroads in the middle 19th century. “Privately owned” but too important for the government to not bail out.

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  65. superdestroyer says:

    @Caj:

    Washington State has been a blue state for many years. Who do people in a deep blue state manage to blame the Republicans.

    If we cannot trust the State of Washington to correctly issue oversized load permits, how can we trust them to build bridges.

    Maybe the question is the main purpose of government to maintain infrastructure and maintain law and order or is the main purpose of government to transfer wealth and create no work jobs.

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  66. Andre Kenji says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    Those “partnerships” are usually a scam.

    I live in a region where there are dozens of highways that were privatized. I saw horrible highways(Not so different from what people expect from highways in the Himalaya) that were completely remodeled after privatization.

    I was opposed to highway privatization, but the results proved that I was wrong.

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  67. Andre Kenji says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Even then, you’re talking about a firm that will expect profits. That’s fine in most circumstances, but on roads? Where will these profits come from?

    Profits come from running a large and efficient operation from the beginning: making structural reforms or building new roads and then by keeping everything clean and safe. That´s why you always see the companies from Italy and Spain getting these contracts all over the world, that´s why pension funds loves these companies.

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  68. steve s says:

    However, this is just another reminder about problems in our infrastructure. Major bridges and such are supposed to collapse in poor, underdeveloped countries, not in an economic superpower.

    The rich paying very low taxes, unions having very little power, low minimum wage laws, and low infrastructure spending and redistribution by government to create a middle class is exactly how you make a third world country.

    Which is what income distribution and mobility statistics verify the United States is becoming.

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  69. steve s says:

    Why are Kenji’s apostrophes all f*cked up?

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  70. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    I live in a region where there are dozens of highways that were privatized. I saw horrible highways(Not so different from what people expect from highways in the Himalaya) that were completely remodeled after privatization.

    I was opposed to highway privatization, but the results proved that I was wrong.

    Apologies, I should have been much clearer, I didn’t intend to slam all public/private collaborations as scams. We have things like that: “Utilities”. Structured properly, they can certainly work. I’m afraid I must confess a level of tolerance on corruption too. If it gets “things done”…..

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