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Bridge collapse no freak accident

U.S. infrastructure on verge
of total failure, says expert

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Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis after collapse Wednesday (Courtesy St. Paul Pioneer Press)

WASHINGTON – Americans breathed a sigh a relief when they learned the disastrous bridge collapse in Minneapolis was not an act of terror.

But the fatal failure of the 40-year-old structure may be worse news in the long run for the nation than had it fallen victim to an attack, says Thomas Rooney, president of Insituform Technologies of St. Louis, Mo.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation says 100,000 bridges in this country are structurally deficient,” he says. “If 1 percent of 1 percent of these dangerous structures collapse, that is not accidental. That is predictable.”

As bad as they are, bridges are in better shape than the rest of our infrastructure, says Rooney.

The EPA reports 3.5 million people got sick last year from 73,000 sewer pipe breaks around the country.

“Maybe some were accidents,” he says. “But when something happens 73,000 times, that is no longer accidental. That is negligence.”

Water pipes are even worse. In some parts of America, 50 percent of the drinking water leaks from bad pipes after it is treated but before it reaches the home, reports Rooney.

“Water officials mistakenly believe that it is cheaper to shove more water through leaky pipes than fix them,” he says.

Rooney said last month’s pipe explosion in Manhattan was also discounted as a mere accident.

“But these catastrophes were not accidents,” says Rooney. “Not if the word has any meaning. Immediately following the bridge collapse, Minnesota officials said the same things as their counterparts in Manhattan just a few weeks ago. They had recently inspected the bridge and the pipe. And so it could not have been their fault.”

Rooney continues: “As president of the largest sewer, oil and pipe repair company in the world, I’ve heard that excuse before – 73,000 times last year alone.”

About 30 percent of America’s nearly 500,000 bridges are categorized as “deficient” and in “urgent need of repair.” In 11 Northeastern states, 50 percent of bridges not only need urgent repairs but are not designed to handle current traffic levels. Many of the bridges are 50 years or older – considerably older than the bridge in Minneapolis.

In New York, the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931. It still carries 300,000 vehicles a day.

An estimated $1.6 trillion is needed over five years to bring America’s infrastructure up to “safe standards.”

“The nation is failing to even maintain the substandard conditions we currently have,” said the report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers, “a dangerous trend that is affecting highway safety, as well as the health of the economy.”

“Ignoring bad infrastructure and hoping it will do no harm is not an option anymore,” says Rooney. “Places that take care of their infrastructure are safer, healthier and more prosperous.”


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