Saturday, August 04, 2007

American Bridges

I'm not often moved to comment online about disasters, as there are far too many of them worldwide. This does not mean I am not just as interested and appalled as the next person.
The Twin Cities bridge collapse particularly captures attention in this household, however. On the personal level, we're acquainted with the bridge in question and are relieved that no calls have come about lost or missing relatives. On the larger scale, we're unhappy to hear that the Bay Bridge is in worse shape than the 35W (never mind that we drive it occasionally, it is much, much longer than the 35W and is full of cars all day long) and that thousands of bridges around the country are in similar condition.
Admittedly, I've known for years that American bridges were in bad shape, but one doesn't generally envision them just collapsing for no apparent reason. It's also unsettling to hear that one reason there have been so few deaths on the 35W was that it had no real superstructure to fall on anyone. A great many American bridges, the Bay Bridge included, are suspension bridges or have some other sort of hardware that could fall onto the surface.
At the same time, I must say that I am not impressed by efforts to make the 35W sound like a disaster on the level of Hurricane Katrina. While it's shocking, disruptive, and killed at least five people while injuring and distressing many more, there is really no comparison. I suspect that more than five people are killed in the Twin Cities in ordinary traffic accidents each day, although I hope I am wrong about that. (I was heartened to hear that biking and public transit are popular methods of getting to work there.)
One can only hope that 35W will actually spur bridge repair across the country, though I am skeptical that this will happen.



Blogger andres kahar said...

Thoughtful post. Unsettling, too, what with the state of other bridges. Some Canuck media sought a Canadian angle to the story: reportedly, some of ours could use repair and better inspection.

When it comes to media coverage of human suffering or tragedy, I find myself stifling or checking cynicism, and feeling like a dick in the process. The mainstream media -- esp TV -- love the human drama too much. And, alas, some of the vox pop participants play into that, almost instinctively knowing what the camera wants to capture. For a few days or maybe longer, it becomes gripping headline reality TV for most of the world. (During its primetime broadcast a couple nights ago, one otherwise respectable broadcaster used the story to advertise its spruced-up website: 'For more pictures of bridge collapse and disaster, go to our website...'). Then, the next gripping story comes along, and most of us collectively forget. Forgive the cynicism. I suppose you pointing up Katrina comparisons stirred things up.

Hope your weekend is happy and swell...

August 04, 2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Don't worry. President Bush has vowed to veto the collapse of any more American bridges.

August 05, 2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Can we veto President Bush?

Driving along 280 through San Francisco last night, I was reminded that in addition to bridges, there are lots of "elevated roadways" which I daresay are in no better condition. (I take the phrase from a former co-worker who was overheard telling someone to "take the elevated roadway that traverses Richardson Bay," or in other words the Richardson Bay Bridge.)

August 06, 2007 5:36 PM  
Blogger morskyjezek said...

Yes, a friend from the East coast told me about a roadway collapse in the Bronx, I believe. (Oh, I almost typed blogging persona is too wrapped up in Brno. Anyway...)

I think that it should be kept in mind that all sorts of structures can, theoretically, collapse. But things like suspension bridges do so a lot differently than the one in Minneapolis, which was a steel truss and cantilever design. Or at least, this is what my dad, who is a bridge inspector, tells me. And apparently steel bridges like that are notoriously difficult to inspect (his specialty is wooden bridges). Anyway, it's apparently not such an isolated incident as there have been a few major bridge disasters relatively recently that have slipped into this collective non-memory that the media seems to encourage.

Speaking of transportation...have you made plans for the journey eastward?

August 09, 2007 10:53 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Knowing your dad's fondness for bridges, I would certainly be inclined to rely on his expertise over some so-called experts. On the other hand, I'm sure he's happier dealing with rural wooden structures.

(I emailed you re the trip.)

August 10, 2007 5:39 AM  

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