As rescue workers continued to pull bodies out of the stretch of the Mississippi River that runs beneath the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters released a $5 million grant to help with cleanup and recovery at the site of the disaster.
That will barely be enough to cover the expense of extracting the bodies of the drowned and dismembered commuters who were hurtled into the river when the interstate highway bridge they were traveling on buckled and then fell into the river. And it will not begin to pay for the rebuilding of a vital transportation link in one of America’s most populous cities — an initiative that will cost in the hundreds of millions.
To get the money that is needed to repair the damage, limits on federal aid for infrastructure will have to be lifted.
This will happen now not because the money is needed but because dozens of Minnesotans have been killed and injured.
If the federal limits were not applied with an eye toward denying needed infrastructure funding to states, if the federal government accepted its responsibility to maintain the bridges, roads, levees and sewers of the United States, the death and destruction that comes from neglect might well have been avoided.
The I-35W bridge had repeatedly been identified as suffering from “fatigue cracks.” Inspectors had labeled it “structurally deficient.”
Yet, as Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman noted on the morning after the collapse, “The death bridge was ‘structurally deficient,’ we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way.”
That’s not a unique circumstance. That is the daily reality of America’s rapidly aging and decaying infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago in New York City, an underground steam pipe exploded, killing one person and injuring dozens
Natural disasters do occur. Storms, heat, aging steel and concrete can all contribute to horrific turns of events like the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the pipe explosion in New York, or the nightmare that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.