Saturday, August 04, 2007

Falling down

All this hand-wringing about the Minneapolis bridge collapse and the implications for bridges throughout the Interstate system reminds me of the hullabaloo following the August 2003 power outage, when a few trees near Lake Erie plunged everybody into darkness. For a few weeks after that, we all became experts on grids, substations, yatta yatta yatta, and politicians promised focused and decisive action.

So what became of that? It could well be that it receded from the headlines and substantial progress has been made. It's much more likely that $42 million and some earnest crackerjack civil engineers have been thrown at it, and they're doing their utmost but lack the high level visibility and sponsorship needed to fund, drive, and coordinate major interagency initiatives. I'm sure it's underfunded.

The fact of the matter is that the US has pretty mindblowing infrastructure. How much should be spent on maintaining it, and how to allocate it are basic questions. But they are not sexy ones. Building a new bridge or highway is sexy and enhances electability for local and state politicians. Fixing an old one is not. I cannot tell you if this is a partisan issue, but I tend to doubt that it is. Maintenance is the type of thing only a lame duck administration could like.

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