Deadly cycle of overuse and neglect

Two of the sidebar stories that materialized quickly after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed Wednesday into the Mississippi River
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Two of the sidebar stories that materialized quickly after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed Wednesday into the Mississippi River at Minneapolis are telling:

One was about previous famous bridge collapses.

The other was about the number of bridges -- of similar construction and of other types -- in the United States are in serious need of inspection and repair.

Local highway officials assured us for a story Sunday that bridges in our five counties get a look every year, and Huron County in particular has an ambitious bridge replacement program underway. Good.

But that leaves thousands of spans of all types all over the country that are not in the shape they could be, because there's not enough money to fix them and because they're handling loads their designers and builders didn't imagine, couldn't imagine, decades ago.

Traffic growing beyond the capacity of a system to handle it is nothing new. Ancient Rome once banned chariots from the center of town during certain times of the day because the streets just couldn't handle all those horses.

But we forget about that, until one day when people are doing nothing more exciting than driving home from work, there is a groan and a rumble and old, overstressed steel and concrete give way -- and the news lights up with a few days of grief and outrage.

And we want to know, why wasn't something done?

Then, except for a few directly touched by the tragedy, the grief and outrage die down and we forget. It's amazing what we let ourselves forget.

Or we get the bill, and damned if we're going the let the government tax that kind of money out of our pockets to fix something that looks perfectly good.

And we drive on overloaded roads and bridges, fly through a crammed air traffic network, tap and dump into bursting water and sewer systems, plug into a limping, sputtering electrical grid, and go on and on and on and on until ...

Something breaks, and people die.

And we want to know, why wasn't something done?