Monday, August 04, 2008

Fixing Bridges the Smart Way

Woolsey bridge near West Fork, AR



From James Baughn of Bridgehunter.com:


Now that we've reached the one year anniversary of the Minneapolis bridge disaster, it's not hard to find politicians and newspaper columnists lamenting the sorry state of the country's infrastructure. They all say the same thing: We need to spend more money!

Unfortunately, almost everybody wants to spend money on the wrong thing: replacement instead of maintenance. Even if enough money could be found to replace all of the nation's structurally deficient bridges, it wouldn't take long before these shiny new bridges fell into disrepair again.

There's no real incentive for highway departments to properly maintain their bridges. The bridges that are in the worst shape get top priority for federal replacement money, so it's actually in the best interest of local governments to allow bridges to become structurally deficient so they can cash in. It's a race to the bottom to see who can score the lowest rating.


An ounce of maintenance today would be worth a pound of replacement in the future. Simple tasks, such as repainting steel beams, or clearing away salt left behind over the winter, would help extend the useful lifespan of a bridge while boosting its sufficiency rating. But the federal government does not provide windfalls for maintenance, only replacement.
To make matters worse, current policy encourages the construction of Bridges to Nowhere. An old bridge that carries very little traffic, but has a low rating, will be replaced by a huge, overengineered concrete monstrosity.

Read the rest here

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