On 1 August 2007, the I-35W bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN collapsed during the evening hours. 100 vehicles were involved in the bridge collapse. One the vehicles involved a school bus carrying 63 children returning from a field trip.
13 people were killed. Within the first 40 hours, 11 area hospitals treated 98 victims. 22 of them were children. In May 2008, the state of Minnesota reached a $38 million settlement to compensate the victims.
At the time of the collapse, the roadway was undergoing a repaving project. The bridge was given a sufficiency rating of 50 out of 100 and rated as "structurally deficient."
A new bridge, the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, was built in its place and opened to traffic on 18 September 2008.
Now another bridge along one of the major north-south interstates has collapsed into a river. This time a portion of a bridge collapsed into the Skagit River along I-5 north of the town of Mount Vernon, WA. The cause of the bridge collapse was due to truck carrying an oversized load struck one of the support beams. The truck had a permit to carry oversized loads.
3 people were injured in this accident.
In 2004, my dad was my co-pilot while I was moving from the East Coast to meet my ship in Washington. I drove the first leg from Charleston, SC to Dallas by myself and then my dad rode with me the rest of the way. One of the things he pointed out to me on our trip was that we have roads that need fixing and he was right.
And he is still right to this day.
My father was born in 1961. Five years before that Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and it was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on 29 June 1956. It was the largest public works project in America at that time.
Eisenhower understood what could be if the nation was interconnected by a system of roads. In 1919 then-Lt. Colonel Eisenhower was part of the Transcontinental Motor Convoy, an Army unit that traveled 3,251 miles from Washington, DC to San Francisco, CA. It was a means to test the mobilization of American forces during wartime in their ability to cross the country. Eisenhower experienced the delays caused by poor roads and the damage they did the vehicles on this trek.
Eisenhower knew what good roads would mean not just for the military but also for commerce in getting goods and services from small towns to the nation's economic hubs. The interstate highway system was part of the reason why the United States emerged out of the Depression-World War II Era (1929-45) as one of the global economic powers. Because we built a road system that interconnected various cities and the lower 48 states into a larger national network businesses grew, the suburban areas expanded, and it allowed many generations of Americans to explore the country.
Take Texas for example. Dallas and Fort Worth were separate cities before the building of the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, or as we know it today Interstate 30, in 1957. That highway linked the cities together and greatly reduced travel time.
Now the cities and their suburbs almost blur into one another as there are three major east-west freeways that link Fort Worth and Dallas together: the above mentioned I-30, I-20 that runs to the south, and to the north Airport Freeway through the suburbs of Hurst-Bedford-Euless and Irving before linking up with I-35E in Dallas.
Texas has 9 interstate highways (10, 20, 27, 30, 35, 37, 40, 44, 45)... well.... if you include the auxiliary routes (35W, 35E, 110, 345, 410, 610, 635, 820) and the future I-69 that's expected to run from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to Houston and through East Texas into Louisiana. And I just learned that US-83 connecting Harlingen to McAllen will be designated Interstate 2. Also, Interstate 69 will split into two branches in The Valley: East (I-69E) will end in Brownsville and Central (I-69C) will end in McAllen making it the first interstate highway to have a letter designation since the practice was phased out in 1980. There is a branch called I-369 which will be on the west side of Texarkana, TX and travel 115 miles south and intersect I-69 at Tenaha, TX.
I REALLY hope they double bolt those I-69 signs.
Millions of drivers (including yours truly) use these highways to get from one end of Texas to the other ranging from a short drive into Dallas to a road trip down to Austin to check out the happenings in the Capitol.
Now, fellow drivers in Texas you've noticed that there are quite a few road projects going on in our state. In the Metroplex, LBJ/635 is undergoing a project that will put express lanes UNDERNEATH the freeway. The interchange north of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is almost complete. The North Tarrant Express project is well underway.
The big one is the widening of I-35 through Central Texas.
Why is there all this construction between Dallas and Austin on I-35?
Contrary to popular belief, Texas is a very suburban state. Most of the people in Texas live in the Metroplex, San Antonio-Austin Area, and Houston Metro. We need these roads to support our growing population. If you recall, Texas gained FOUR new congressional districts after the last Census. Texas's population is growing all right. The 10 US cities with the largest population increase from 2011 to 2012, five are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth.
And those cities are on Interstates 10 (San Antonio to Houston), 35 (Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin to San Antonio) and 45 (Dallas to Houston) comprises the Texas Triangle. There is also the mini-triangle of Austin-San Antonio-Houston that consists of I-10 and I-35 and US-290, but on the Interstate Highway map the 10-35-45 triangle is very recognizable.
We need our infrastructure to recognize and support our growing population.
And we are needing it.... bad.
Most of the highways in this country are approaching 60 years old. Remember, the interstate highway system was built starting in the 1950s. Roads and bridges are exposed to various elements ranging from the weather to cars and heavy trucks. These things wear down after continual usage.
Almost two months ago President Obama was in Miami, FL discussing the importance of infrastructure. He gets why having quality roads and ports are good for business.
That's the REAL trickle-down effect on the economy; not the ridiculous notion of that if we give rich people tax breaks, they'll create jobs. No, what will create jobs is investing in tangible usage items like roads, utilities, ports, and other infrastructure projects AND most importantly... maintaining that infrastructure and that means TRAINING workers in THIS country! Businesses can trust that American roads are of sound quality and ensure that their goods and services can get from Point A to Point B without any disruption. They won't have to spend as much time (and importantly money) on having to repair their vehicles damaged by
shitty crappy low quality and worn out roads.
The bridge disasters in the last 6 years should not have happened but Republicans were steadfast in that we don't need to be investing any money in this country and are now crowing that Americans should embrace austerity. In addition, they enjoy blocking President Obama's agenda.
Again one of the largest infrastructure projects that this country saw was created by Dwight D. Eisenhower, A REPUBLICAN!
Senator Mitch McConnell (Republican leader, KY) opposed a bill that would bring America's roads and bridges into the 21st Century. And a bridge spanning the Ohio River, the Sherman Minton Bridge to be specific, was closed for 4 months in 2011-12. This isn't an ordinary bridge. This bridge carries I-64 into McConnell's home city of Louisville, KY. I-64 runs from St. Louis, MO through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia to its eastern terminus in Hampton Roads, VA. Hampton Roads, VA is home to one of the largest US Naval Bases and shipping ports in the country.
At the time of the bridge closing, 34% of Kentucky's bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Upgrades were made to bring the bridge up to code, but there was an economic loss as traffic had to be rerouted as a result of the construction.
You know... if I was the Kentucky Democratic Party I would be running ads about how Senator McConnell has let their state's infrastructure fall apart. And I would keep running those ads until 4 November 2014. And then the next day start running them again but replace McConnell's name with Senator
Rand Paul as he is up for re-election in 2016.
For too long we have put off investing in our infrastructure long enough. We are (both literally and figuratively) at a breaking point.
Instead of investing money into finding ways to make our roads better in the last 30 years, we invested money into cutting taxes for the wealthiest 1% which according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service's study released in September 2012 they discovered no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people helps grow the economy.
Eventually we're going to have to repair our roads and it will end up costing us more if we continue the practice of pushing back repairs instead of undertaking a large wide scale repair and replace project as President Obama suggested.
We built big things in this country once and we took pride in it.
We can do it again.