Thursday, August 02, 2007

What a Bridge Collapse Shows Us

Via James Joyner at OTB, here is an excerpt from Stephen Flynn's excellent op-ed on the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis this week:

The fact is that Americans have been squandering the infrastructure legacy bequeathed to us by earlier generations. Like the spoiled offspring of well-off parents, we behave as though we have no idea what is required to sustain the quality of our daily lives. Our electricity comes to us via a decades-old system of power generators, transformers and transmission lines—a system that has utility executives holding their collective breath on every hot day in July and August. We once had a transportation system that was the envy of the world. Now we are better known for our congested highways, second-rate ports, third-rate passenger trains and a primitive air traffic control system. Many of the great public works projects of the 20th century—dams and canal locks, bridges and tunnels, aquifers and aqueducts, and even the Eisenhower interstate highway system—are at or beyond their designed life span.

What I see most places I travel around the country are homes that are overbuilt to nearly the edge of the property line, and then a crumbling infrastructure across that line. Roads, power lines, sewers, schools--you name it. Almost everything used in common across that property line is stressed to the point of breaking. I feel the same way looking at that bridge collapse as I did almost two years ago watching the pitiful government response to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. I'll repeat what I wrote then about limited government, with a change to the example:
What does it mean when folks like me aspire to have limited government? We seek maximal freedom for citizens, without the intrustion of government where it is not needed. But we also seek maximal efficiency of the government in those cases where it is essential. On typical days, we argue about where to draw the line between "essential" and "not needed." The integrity of a bridge owned and maintained by the state highway agency that serves 140,000+ people per day is so far over that line that we cannot even see it anymore.

Limited should not be misconstrued to mean ineffectual.


Anonymous said...

True... Limited does not necessarily = ineffectual. Nevertheless, there are those who would eliminate government vaccinations, the postal service, public education, and all taxation upon "their" income (courtesy of the neocon brigade).

It is *your* job as a spokesman for "limited" government to define where good government ends and bad government begins.

I look forward to enlightenment.

Andrew Samwick said...

Agreed. Perhaps the last few years of blogging are a start.

Anonymous said...

Point taken ;)

Todd said...

As a former structural engineer that has worked on many bridges like the one that collapsed I'm glad to see you understand that the problem is a political and social issue rather than an engineering one.

When the dust settles it won't be a huge surprise to many of us familiar with those structures. Engineers know how to prevent such tragedies yet the money never seems to be available.

Thanks for your perspective.

Tom said...

Well, the standard Bush answer would be to privatize the bridges, so that the business owners could make tons of virtually guaranteed money while things go well, and then hide behind bankruptcy laws when the bridge collapses.

What would be any different? The bridge would work for a while; there would be no R&D budget, so eventually it would fall down; but at least there'd be some nice (Republican) donations while the money was flowing, instead of having all those bothersome government workers who have a knack of voting democrat...and of course the dim-witted sons of other rich people will be first in line for the business. Gotta take care of your own.

minka said...

I think it's disingenuous to assert that arguing for limited govt is arguing for effectual govt. You folks who have argued for limited govt ARE the problem, because you have created a anti-tax climate in this country which is selfish, entitled, and irrational. The fact is that you've attacked govt and all its essential services in rhetoric and policy and campaign. You've been bad mouthing public servants for decades, and the exodus of career public servants under the Bushies is truly an outgrowth of your values and priorities.

I think the bridge falling down is a true picture of the real state of this country. If you want to know why, look in the mirror.

Andrew Samwick said...

There are 300+ posts on this blog. None of them do what you accuse me of in your comment. Start here and become informed.