NYT: Big talk, not much action after I-35W bridge disaster

When the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed in August 2007, carrying 13 people to their deaths, it was described as a “wake-up” call to the nation that its infrastructure was in big trouble. Critical bridges in Minnesota were replaced. The I-90 bridge over the Cayahoga River in Cleveland has recently opened— it shared the same design as the one in Minneapolis — but beyond that, the nation has fallen back to a comfortable sleep, the New York Times reports today.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a letter grade of D in its 2009 assessment of the nation’s bridges. Last year, it upgraded the grade. To a D+.

The numbers can be discouraging. Of 607,000 bridges in this country, more than 65,000 are deemed “structurally deficient” by experts. In Pennsylvania, a leader of dubious distinction in this regard, one bridge in four is so classified. Some 20,000 bridges around the country are labeled “fracture critical,” a wince-inducing term if ever there was one; it means that the entire structure could collapse should a single critical component break. At least 8,000 bridges fall into both of those categories.

“There is no safety net — they’re all vulnerable,” Barry B. LePatner warns in the Retro Report video. A New York lawyer, Mr. LePatner is something of an infrastructure Jeremiah, raising alarms in interviews and in his 2010 book, “Too Big to Fall.”

“We like to build new things. We’re not so crazy about the drudgery of keeping the old in decent shape,” the Times says today.