Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bridges and other dangerous things

The American Society of Civil Engineers is, fortunately, not a branch of the Bush Administration and as a result we can go to them for a truthful account of the progress the Bush Administration and Congress, which was, until recently Republican, have made in the improvement of our nation's infrastructure. If you compare our infrastructure in the momentous year of 2001 with what it was in 2005, the last year that the ASCE gave out grades -- there should be grades coming out this year -- you must conclude that our infrastructure under a fully Republican controlled government has gone from bad to worse, with two exceptions. These are aviation and schools. In some cases grades were not given out in 2001 so a comparison is not possible.

Of course, Osama Bin Laden may be partly responsible for improvements in aviation. And Bush's "No Child Left Behind" could have helped with our schools. The "No Child Left Behind" is a wonderful linguistic slogan, but it is also, like most slogans (the "War on Poverty" and all other similar slogans involving wars on problems that do not require soldiers) fatally deficient. Bush's goal is totally unachievable for some kids are very, very dumb or have very, very dumb or poorly educated parents who provide poor examples and poor guidance or the kids simply don't give a damn.

In every other category things either stayed the same -- bridges (still C), dams (still D), solid waste (still C+) -- or got worse -- drinking water (now D-), the national power grid (now D), hazardous waste (now D), navigable waterways (now D-), roads (now D), transit (now D+) and waste water (now D-). In two cases, no grades were given in 2001. One was security, which gets an incomplete because there is too little information and rail, which gets a C-.

The big story the last couple of days was the bridge collapse in Minnesota. Osama Bin Laden did not bring down that bridge. WE DID. And that was a bridge that had been deemed merely "structurally deficient." Let us suppose that a structural engineer looked at your house and deemed that a recent earthquake had made it "structurally deficient." Would you keep living in it if you had a spouse and two kids? Here's an easier question, closer to the current situation with bridges. If you were buying a house and the house inspector you hired told you it was "structurally deficient," would you buy it? How is it then that we drive over bridges with that designation? The answer is easy. We don't know which bridges are and are not structurally deficient. There needs to be a clear label on every bridge in the country as to its reliability.

We either have a very serious bridge problem or a very serious language problem. Given how I interpret "structurally deficient bridge," I would not knowingly drive my new grandkid over one. In my view, any bridge that gets that designation should be condemned until it is replaced or repaired, if that is possible.

We have the money to repair or replace all our bridges. Where is it? It is in Iraq. In fact, fairly recently a great deal of money was budgeted for infrastructure by Congress. What happened to it? It went to pork barrel projects. We should not be a bit surprised by that.

Yesterday, my wife and I drove over to our kid's house with their dogs to await the arrival of the new kid and her parents. I assessed each bridge and elevated ramp as to when it was built. Essentially all of the ones we went over were built since we arrived in 1971. That felt good. Coming home we went over some that were decidedly older. I was driving this time and I forgot to keep track of the bridges and other elevated structures. Oh well, such is life in the United States.

I don't think I have ever said anything kind about the French. Let me repair that by noting that I would like to go to France just to drive over its very long and very beautiful suspension bridge which was innovative both in regard to its design and in how it was built. This 1.6 mile long, 1,132 feet tall (at its highest point) bridge was the subject of a high definition Discovery Channel program that I watched. Of course, the French did build a superhighway that it intended to go into Italy without having any idea how cars would cross the Tarn River Gorge. The result was a lot of congestion for years as cars wended their way over old roads and through medieval villages. Alls well that ends well, of course. Too bad we can't say this about our thousands of structurally deficient bridges.

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Blogger Bilbo said...

You may be interested in my blog entry of a few days ago titled, "All Fall Down." I think we are in great agreement. P.S. - My undergraduate degree (Penn State, 1973) was in Linguistics (foreign language option), so I really appreciate your blog. Well done! Best wishes, Bilbo

7:57 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

You are right, Bilbo, we are in agreement. I arrived at Ohio State when you were a junior at Penn State, I suspect. When I saw the picture I decided that you must be a precocious 12 year old. You are too old to be precocious, I fear, though much younger than I.

10:48 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I heard Tom Delay say on Fox News this morning that it was environmentalists & Unions that brought the bridge down. He said it at lest 3 times in 5 minutes.

Speaking of the term "structurally deficient bridges" I've heard that term a lot in the last few years as my husband works for the highway department & hear those guys talk. They are having to do a lot of bridge rebuilding lately. There is one substantial concrete bridge over a ravine I occasionally go over that you can see wobble if you stand in the right spot. I know the county knows about how bad it is, but there are so many bad bridges & no money. Perhaps labels on the bridges like "Cross at your own risk." might get some action.

11:18 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Cencerned, Tom DeLay, like most Republican politicians (as opposed to Republican humans), lies and lies and lies and when that doesn't get the trick done, tells a different lie.

There was a drop in the number of "structurally deficient" bridges in the country. Was that because they lowered their standards or improved the bridges.

I think that "wobble" is not an acceptable kind of bridge flexion. Swaying is okay. There was the Galloping Gertie bridge I saw on TV and that you can see at this interesting site. Gertie fell into the Sound.

12:39 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Maybe wobble isn't the right word for this bridge. It's not a suspension bridge. Bounce is a better description.

9:20 AM


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