As a budding Civil Engineer with dreams of working for the Department of Transportation, it’s only natural that I am very interested in yesterday’s tragedy in Minnesota, where a bridge that carries Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River collapsed, plunging several vehicles and their occupants into the river below. While I understand the scope of this tragedy, I have to admit that I am a little dismayed at the media “hype machine” that’s kicked into gear. It seems like reporters are nearly grabbing family members of the victims from the site and trying to get an interview. I think that’s kind of rude.
While there will undoubtedly be an investigation into the cause of the collapse, I think we are seeing a symptom of a growing concern in the United States, and that’s our aging transportation infrastructure.
The bulk of the interstate highway system was built around 50 years ago. Naturally, there have been improvements, modifications, inspections and whatnot along the way, however, many of the bridges and roadways in the U.S. are nearing the end of their shelf life. Unfortunately, with a seemingly unending war that is costing hundreds of billions of dollars and an American need for an increase in vehicle size and such, our roads are getting abused without the monetary support necessary to keep them in shape.
When I was a child there was talk about removing the tolls from the New York State Thruway. This was slated to happen some time between 1992 and 1996, though it never did. I think this is a good thing. As a young driver, I couldn’t wait for the Thruway to be “free”; as a more experienced adult, I find tolls to be a good thing because the road is being paid for by the people that use them. I don’t have a problem with tolls as long as they are used for what they’re intended for and that’s the upkeep and improvement of the roadway that’s being tolled. I’m NOT in favor of hiring toll booth operators at a huge salary simply to hand out tickets or push a “GO” button to let an E-ZPass car through, to me that’s a huge waste of money. However, I am in favor of tolls if it’s going to keep our roads in better shape and allow various transporation agencies to do their job and work to make driving safer for all involved.
I’m also in favor of increasing the tax on fuel. As Americans, while we bitch about gas being nearly $3.00 a gallon in actuality we have some of the cheapest gas prices in the world. Perhaps if we all paid a few more cents at the pump and/or drove smaller vehicles that didn’t beat up the road as much, we could avoid tragedies like the bridge collapse in Minnesota yesterday.