Can you believe this nonsense? Is this for real?
Are we as a nation considered to be so uninformed, so gullible, so stupid, that we will blithely believe that a national tragedy that has caused dozens of serious injuries, and a death toll that as of this writing is in the single digits but rising, is the fault of the sitting President of the United States, George W. Bush, as some politicians are already claiming?
Or maybe it wasn't Bush at all! Maybe it was CHENEY! Yeah, Cheney. He set it all up. He did it so Halliburton will get all the repair projects, and he'll become even richer and more powerful. Yeah, Cheney. Not Bush. Remember, you heard it here first!
Boy, this facet of the I-35 bridge collapse tragedy doesn't say much for public education if the conspiracy theorists and politicians actually think we'll take the bait on this one.
Let's get a couple of things up front here. Two decades ago when I was a journalist at the Hartford Courant, working the night beat, a section of the Interstate 95 bridge over the Mianus River in Connecticut collapsed at 1:30 a.m. Several vehicles went into the abyss resulting in three deaths and three injuries. If the collapse had occurred during the day the toll could have been much worse.
A year later I was selected to work on an investigative team that took a close look at our state Department of Transportation and its inspection and maintenance activities, especially with regard to bridges in the state. I was selected for the team both because I had an engineering degree and had worked in that field prior to becoming a journalist, and because I had learned surveillance methods when I was in the Marines preparing to go to Vietnam.
My job as a helicopter crewman didn't alter the fact that all Marines are riflemen first, and that we were trained to be asset to the infantry if we were shot down, rather than a liability. So I got a fair amount of ground training including surveillance tactics, which came in handy during the surveillance portion of the Courant investigation.
Federal transportation officials already had determined that the official cause of the collapse was corrosion in the underpinnings, which itself was caused in large part because of sand and salt buildup from snowplowing operations in the winter. Some of the drains that were supposed to shunt the sand and salt off of the roadway were blocked off, and others hadn't been regularly cleaned, and over time they added to the corrosion and helped weaken the span supports.
The Courant's three-month-plus long inspection also found state level oversight to be lacking, and a lot of goofing off in the inspection department.
In 1997 I moved to Florida and went to work as Director of Public Information for the Florida DOT in the Tampa Bay region. There, construction and maintenance on thousands of miles of roads and bridges at the state and federal levels was an ongoing venture. In that capacity I also was on the receiving end of the media attention and dealt with inquiries about the roads and bridges on a near daily basis.
So what I am telling you about the collapse on Interstate-35 in Minneapolis comes from knowledge and experience.
First, the cost to keep our roads and bridges in a good state of repair is enormous, probably in the trillions of dollars nationally if we take every mile of local, state and federal highways, entrance and exit ramps, service roads, and bridges into account. For example, a study in 1998 showed that to bring Tampa Bay's interstate transportation network up to par would take at least 20 billion dollars. That was just construction costs, and didn't include the cost to maintain the system.
That is just for one city in one state.
Every year the state and federal governments look at their budgets and determine how much to spend on road construction and maintenance, and every year the DOT officials have to testify before their respective bosses as to how much is needed to get their job done. Every year they have to compete with every other department, and usually the amount they are given to work with is far below the amount needed to stay current. So every year the system slips a bit.
When something becomes an emergency, as it is now in Minneapolis, money suddenly appears from somewhere in the state or federal budgets to do a job that should have been done long before it became an emergency, or in this case, before people died as a result of it being put off year after year. Usually, it isn't that the DOT officials aren't aware of the needs, but they have to prioritize their projects to fit the amount of money the legislatures or Congress allocates for their projects.
There are many issues surrounding the road and bridge repair needs. Some bridges, in fact many of them, were designed and built using 1940s and 1950s technology that in some cases has found to be lacking. The designs that were state of the art 60 years ago have not held up, and the result in some cases is tragedy.
According to news reports the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis was flagged for deficiencies going all the way back to 1990. If memory serves me correctly, George Bush the elder was in office then, and we didn't actually have the Iraq War, but we did have the Gulf War, so does that count?
Then, we had eight years of the Bill Clinton Administration, during which, what happened? The bridge continued to deteriorate and no one did anything about it, or miracle of miracles, it suddenly stabilized for those years, and then the deterioration returned at a much faster pace when George Bush the younger became president?
Facts are such nasty little devils when you are trying to establish a good conspiracy theory.
It is obvious, since we can all see the bridge in the river, that a horrendous blunder in establishing priorities occurred in Minnesota. Someone, somewhere, didn't see this situation as it really was, and what should have been done, wasn't done.
My guess is that people in the DOT knew they were walking a tight rope, but they needed a lot more money than anyone was ready to part with, not only to repair or replace the bridge, but to deal with the enormous traffic rerouting problems that would have occurred when that road was shut down for the project.
Which brings me to another point. Many, in fact, a huge percentage, of the bridges over which America's motorists drive every day were built using traffic models that never anticipated the current population levels or the numbers of cars that would be using them.
For instance, in Tampa, Interstate 4 and Interstate 275 were designed and built in the 50s and early 60s to handle a maximum load of 60,000 cars per day. As of the year 2000 the number moving through the intersection of those two roads, dubbed Malfunction Junction by the local media, was approximately 190,000 cars per day, 300 percent more than the designers had envisioned.
Not only does this play havoc with the traffic flow, but it puts stresses on the road bed and underpinnings that are far, far in excess of the design parameters. Our population is growing exponentially and we simply don't have the ability to keep up with the stresses on the transportation infrastructure.
If money is the issue, as it usually is, then Congress has to make transportation its number one priority over defense, health, education, homeland security and myriad other competing issues. If raising enough money by taxation isn't feasible then we have to look at where money currently is being spent and redirect the flow.
Rather than the war in Iraq or the overall War on Terror or homeland security, maybe we should look at the State Department's foreign aid budget and stem the flow of billions of dollars that is earmarked to help unfortunate citizens of other countries. It is a well known secret that money that is supposed to ease the suffering for the public, often never makes it past the corrupt dictators and bureaucrats who are getting rich off the well meaning American taxpayers.
From that perspective it is time to put America First.
Or, let's scale back what we are spending at the United Nations. I'm not talking about the field operations where multi-national forces are trying to keep the peace under often impossible situations, I'm talking about the billions that are squandered through the headquarters operations in New York. Let's take a real hard look at that organization that gets half its funding from the good old US of A, and see what we are really getting for our money.
On the technical side, while the deaths and injuries in Minneapolis are truly tragic, there were many factors that kept the toll lower than it might have been. Since it was rush hour, the traffic was moving at a crawl, and thus speed was not an issue.
Also, the drop was approximately 60 feet, which is right on the edge of survivability in a fall into water. A person hitting the water after a fall of more than 60 feet hits a surface that takes on the consistency of concrete. But since the bridge itself broke the water surface, and automobile tires and shocks absorbed some of the impact, many people survived who would would not have made it through a longer drop especially if they had been travelling at the speed limit.
Also, since much of the bridge went straight down and landed flat, people were able to get out of their vehicles and get themselves and others to safety. A longer fall or a steeper angle and that would not have been possible.
There is much to review in Minneapolis and nationwide, and this tragedy is still in a state of flux. But what it really shows is that there is a limit to how much America can do, and how much America should do for others before we take care of the home front.
It hasn't been reported to a wide extent but I noticed there was celebration in the Muslim world where extremists said this was Allah acting against us. Well, I don't see it that way. If Allah wanted to really put the smack down on America he would have picked a larger bridge, a longer fall, more cars travelling at higher speed, and the death toll would have been enormous.
Terrorists celebrating tragedies in our country just shows the nature of the enemy we are fighting. If they can celebrate a breakdown in our infrastructure, imagine the carnage that would be unleashed on the American population if the terrorists had engineered the collapse.
Friday, August 03, 2007