It took a tragedy to make politicians realize what we've known all along: that underfunding maintenance of the nation's infrastructure can have serious—even deadly—consequences.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W steel-truss bridge in Minnesota, politicians are finally getting the message. For decades, infrastructure managers have pointed to research, including reports from the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory (NBI), as iron-clad evidence that action needs to be taken sooner rather than later, and that monies for bridge improvement and maintenance need to be increased.
Only after a collapse that has, as of press time, claimed eight lives have politicians sprung into action. Governors, senators, mayors, and other officials from coast to coast have called press conferences to respond to the situation. The flurry of activity in the weeks following the collapse included:
The bridge collapse scare may have occurred too late in the appropriations process for FY 2008, which begins Oct. 1, to motivate Congress to open up money from that particular well. Emergency funding is still a possibility. The bottom line: politicians may be headline grabbers with short memories, but in this case, an angry populace loudly clamoring for infrastructure improvements might not let them forget.