It’s past time to fix the bridges

I was wondering whether I’d be safe driving across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

When I lived nearby, I drove across it many times and didn’t think twice. I floated under it on a raft. But it’s a long way down. The bridge, relatively new then, is now more than 50 years old.

A bridge over the Mississippi River was shut down in May because a structural engineer found what was called a crack. In the photo, it looked like a complete break. It’s good to know that routines inspections were being done. So America’s infrastructure is not being fixed unless an emergency is found but at least somebody is looking.

In Minnesota in 2007 a highway bridge collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Later analysis found that bridge suffered from an inherent design flaw, steel plates that were not strong enough. How could that happen in America?

For reassurance, before my recent trip up north, I looked up the Gorge Bridge. I am relieved to report that the bridge underwent an extensive structural renovation in 2012 and was reinspected in 2013.

Thousands of bridges are waiting their turn. Most are probably less daunting than the one over the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge.

Waiting along with them are roads, water systems, the electric power grid, and numerous threats like fire and flood.

Finally we have a federal infrastructure bill that we hope will start catching up with a long list of deferred maintenance, fixing what’s broken and adding needed resources like broadband that we should have started building years ago. It is infuriating that this legislation has come about only after a bruising protracted political struggle.

The greatest industrial nation in the history of the world should not hesitate for a minute to spend the money to maintain both the structures we have built and the natural environment that surrounds and supports our communities.

We have been slowly starving our government for 40 years. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is not the solution but the problem. That was a great soundbite, but the poetic resonance would have been spoiled if he had added some specificity — if, for example, he had said he meant programs he didn’t like, but he didn’t mean bridges or tunnels or controlling forest fires.

The anti-government philosophy was then championed by a radical named Grover Norquist who said he wanted to keep reducing taxes until government was so small you could drown it in a bathtub. Ha ha.

That era implanted an attitude in some Americans that all of government should shrink and weaken, instead of thoughtful analysis about which government was excessive and which government was essential to keeping America strong and healthy.

Here in New Mexico, we have just had a nonpartisan election in which several school districts, from Los Alamos to Las Cruces, passed bond issues. As citizens and homeowners, we understand that in order to continue using the building safely, you have to fix the roof and check the foundation now and then. But at the national level we’ve been shrinking the maintenance budget for 40 years. The timbers have been rotting.

If you think this bill spends too much money, think how much less it would be if we had supported responsible maintenance all along.

According to press releases from our Congress members, some things New Mexico can expect from this law are improvements to roads and bridges, statewide broadband, water systems and drinking water, securing the electric grid against natural disasters, forest management and fire prevention, and clean energy including development of hydrogen.

Is there anything here you think we don’t need to bother with?

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2021

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