but I wanted to point out that a very large proportion of the nation's
major road and bridge infrastructure is in dire need of replacement.
The tragedy in Minnesota has governors and engineers alike scrambling
to identify which roads and bridges are structurally deficient, and
what maintenance is needed to keep them from falling apart.
But the fact of the matter is that some of them just plain need to be
rebuilt. I learned from some colleagues of mine at PennDOT that most
of the major highways that have been built in this country ought to be
completely reconstructed every 40 years, even if they've been properly
maintained all along in terms of resurfacing and what not. Well, a
pretty large proportion of highways in Pennsylvania, and I would guess
in many other states, was built in the 1950's and 1960's, when
President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway Act essentially gave states
a 9-to-1 match on dollars spent building highways; so highways built
during that era are now 40 to 50 years old. Plus the main funding
source for highway repair, the fuel tax, is not keeping up with the
increase in maintenance costs, since 1) it is not indexed to inflation
and 2) cars are more fuel-efficient than ever before.
Infrastructure is not a very sexy thing to spend on. Take it from me
on a personal note: the pipe that drains the shower on our second
floor sprung a leak in between the floors, necessitating a $1500
repair job, and trust me when I say there are about three dozen other,
more interesting home beautification projects that my wife and I can
think of that we'd rather spend that sort of money on. Nevertheless,
it is the prudent thing to do. And it gets you a pretty darn good
return on your investment - why do you think China and India are
throwing billions of dollars into roads and bridges? As the saying
goes, an ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. Let's hope
our politicians are thoughtful enough to spend that ounce on
prevention, lest we have any more tragedies like the Minnesota bridge
collapse earlier this month.