Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 2, 2007

A Bridge too close

35W Bridge Collapse via Reuters

35W Bridge Collapse via Reuters

Today, Minneapolis wakes up to a different reality – one in which the main artery through the city to the north has been severed. What caused it, and what the human toll is, we’ll know later. Today, we pray for those who have been affected, and those who don’t know yet about their loved ones. And wait.

I lived in Minneapolis from 1973 – 1977, so I arrived 6 years after the 35W bridge was built, and 28 years before the US Department of Transportation rated it “structurally deficient.” And when I say I lived in Minneapolis, I mean in Southeast Minneapolis, at 10th and University SE – mere blocks from the bridge itself.

[CNN has video of the actual collapse captured by a security camera.]

For all that, the bridge wasn’t a big part of my life. The upside of not having a car (which we didn’t) is that I didn’t wind up on 35W that often, although I did bike across it on more than one occasion. My life was further east, in Dinkytown and the east bank campus of the University of Minnesota. The worst infrastructure problem in my time there was a massive sinkhole in Dinkytown, which swallowed a car and mucked up traffic for months.

From my perch almost 2,000 miles southwest of the Twin Cities I sit in relative comfort and safety, tempered by the knowledge that our local natural phenomenon – earthquakes – can do to any elevated road in Los Angeles (e.g.,the Northridge Earthquake in 1994) what was done to the 35W bridge in Minneapolis.

Or they may collapse on their own.

I didn’t want to turn this into a rant about decaying infrastructure (Digby did – and better than I will), or how much we spend trying to build roads in Baghdad when our roads here are in peril.

But that’s what I keep coming back to, because I fear we have more of these events in our future, and more likely through our own neglect than at the hands of others.

Rick Perlstein has done a number of posts about what he calls E. Coli conservatism – the natural consequence to our nation’s health and well being as we follow conservative hatred of government to its logical conclusion:

It was over 35 years ago, in “Conscience of a Conservative,” when Barry Goldwater wrote these stirring words: “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient for I mean to reduce its size.” Twenty years after that, President Reagan intoned at his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

But Barry Goldwater lost his 1964 presidential race in a landslide. Reagan was inaugurated, and we began seeing headlines like “Wide Spectrum of Regulations Set for Reagan Team’s Scalpel.” But actually, the Reagan team wasn’t able to deregulate all that much, or nearly as much as they wished; the political obstacles, in the 1980s, were just too great.

For these brief four years, however, between the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2002 under President Bush and the recent return of Congress to Democratic control, the scalpel has become a machete. We’ve been able to witness a natural experiment: What would have happened if Goldwater and Reagan had been able to get their way?

Surveying the results, what once looked to me like principle now looks to me now like mania. Conservatism has been killing Americans. The recent food safety crisis is only one case study.

Could it be that bridges in the water are to be another?

We’re so busy yelling “al qaeda” that we’ve failed to take care of the things we, as a nation, ought to. Tainted food, crumbling bridges, and citizens without health care are the price we pay.

Al qaeda doesn’t need to attack us. If they wait long enough, everything will just fall apart.


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