Thursday, August 02, 2007

Failing Infrastructure And Our Inability To Learn From Anything

Hi everybody. The regular readers have probably already guessed I won't be doing a review for Wednesday's show. Continuous breaking news is tedious and fairly pointless to blog. Oh, and plus I missed almost everything. I went to the movies and didn't learn about the bridge collapse until late last night. I wish I could tell you I was surprised when I heard the news, but I wasn't. Not at all, actually. Now the pictures? Those were shocking. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be plunged into the river like that or the fear of wondering if your loved one was in one of the cars that went in. A couple of months ago I had a dream (well, a nightmare, really) that a semi truck pushed my car off an embankment and into a river. I still remember the panic as my car started to fill up with water. And that was just a dream. It must have been horrible for them.

Of course the million dollar question is: Why did the bridge collapse? A specific answer is probably going to take quite a while, but I can tell you that the reason I was not surprised upon hearing the news is because our country's infrastructure is in shambles. This is no secret. But unfortunately, we all seem to have ADHD. Now that a bridge has collapsed, the spotlight is on bridges, 27% of which have problems according to the DOT. But bridges aren't the only source of our woes. Last year I did a post on hurricane Katrina in which I linked to a dailykos diary on our nation's failing infrastructure. Of focus was an article that ran a year ago in "The Seattle Times," which paints a sobering picture of the problems we face and our inability or unwillingness to deal with them:
The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

"I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

We're not very good with alarms are we? Of course the irony is, all the time and money we've put into keeping ourselves safe from terrorists, when the average person is much more likely to be affected by a blackout or a collapse or a pipeline get the picture. Analyst Christian Beckner (who runs the Web site Homeland Security Watch) thinks we're not worried enough about threats from within-and no, he doesn't mean sleeper cells. The article continues:
"If a terrorist group were able to knock the NSA offline, or disrupt one of the nation's busiest airports, or shut down the most important oil pipeline in the nation, the impact would be perceived as devastating," Beckner said. "And yet we've essentially let these things happen — or almost happen — to ourselves."

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating "at an alarming rate."

So what have our leaders done to fix this looming crisis:

"Infrastructure is always a difficult issue," Bush acknowledged. "It's a federal responsibility and a state and local responsibility. And I, frankly, feel like we've upheld our responsibility at the federal level with the highway bill."

But experts say the law is riddled with some 5,000 "earmarks" for projects sought by members of Congress that do nothing to systematically address the problem.

More earmarks! Sigh. The thing with infrastructure is nobody really thinks about it until it fails. Plus the fact that, well, this country is pretty big and not everyone hears about every failure. This past March, a 25 ton piece of concrete just freaking fell off an overpass here in St. Louis and onto the highway. Luckily, there was only one injury to the drivers below. As far as I know, the story didn't make the national news (not that it should have), so I'm sure most of the rest of the country had no idea. My point here is that I'm guessing this stuff is happening in every city in the country. Viewed separately, each incident just looks like a horrible accident. Viewed together, the picture gets much more disturbing.

So what to do? Damned if I know. What, you were expecting this post to have a thesis statement? What I do know is that we're most likely going to have a short national conversation on infrastructure and it's most likely going to go nowhere. Just like how Katrina didn't really serve as a catalyst for dealing with poverty. But then again, maybe some people will take notice. Or at least not forget. I mean, look at 360; most everyone not in New Orleans have moved on from Katrina, but God love them (and NBC Nightly), they keep plugging along. All I know is our leaders need to be kept accountable on this topic before more people die.

And ultimately, this is why I get mad about the Anna Nicoles and the Paris Hiltons and the hours of news coverage they take up. What if all that time had been instead focused on our nation's infrastructure? Would it have lead to changes that got the Minnesota bridge fixed or shut down? Doubtful. But maybe it would have stopped the next horrible thing that's going to happen five years from now. What concerns me is what doesn't get covered. Over a decade ago when the country was transfixed by OJ, did a small story about New Orleans' levees go unnoticed? Imagine if the levees had gotten OJ coverage. The flooding of the city may never have happened. Our priorities are completely out of whack.

Okay, so reading over this I see I've given you something depressingly unsnarky. Sorry about that. Here, watch the dramatic prairie dog. You know you love it. Anyway, I'll have something for your for Thursday's show, but depending on their coverage, it might not be a review.


Blogger Arachnae said...

The problem is we can't personalize the effects of the laws of physics enough to mobilize any concern. Now if Osama bin Laden would just come out FOR metal fatigue and structural deficiencies, we couldn't THROW money at the problem fast enough.

For some bizarre reason, accidental deaths are somehow 'better' than intentional ones, never mind that the victims are just as dead. A great tragedy, go on to the next thing.

Could terrorists have hurt us any more than Katrina (and 'benign' neglect of the levees) did? How many bridge collapses, earthquakes and hurricanes does it take to equal one 9/11?

Maybe we'd care enough to do something about global warming if someone we hated was FOR it?

8:59 PM  
Blogger Lady Broadoak said...

In my experience, which is direct, this bridge collapse goes way back to construction taken on federal highways back in the Vietnam era. I have posted an article on how much work we did to PREVENT the bridge from every being built in the first place and we did continually nag them to fix it over a period of MANY years, despite what the media is showing.

The article is running currently on OpED News and on my blog, It is a bit meandering as I was IN SHOCK, but not surprised in the least bit.

Interesting we had the same types of dream before this occured. I also have dreams about the breakdown in the food chain due to dirty, polluted water which cannot sustain marine life ...

Cheers! Very very interesting blog.

9:19 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from