I-35W Minneapolis bridge proves that rebuilding infrastructure can help the economy
Often in trying to fix an “unsexy” problem, something tragic has to happen before people realize the neglected need, and are determined to fix the previous unseen issue. For those of us who think the American infrastructure needs to be drastically updated, we thought the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis would be the beginning of that venture.
From the balcony beyond the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis, you can see the Mississippi River, the Stone Arch Bridge, and bits of pieces of the University of Minnesota campus. But I had not realized — until someone pointed it out — that you had a beautiful view of the new I-35W bridge.
The bridge looked very nice and very modern, especially when seen against the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted into a pedestrian bridge. But you could also see how far those people in cars fell into the Mississippi River. The bridge runs right near the Metrodome, home of the NFL Vikings, and back in 2007, the MLB Twins.
On that Saturday afternoon, plenty of cars traveled across that bridge to get to the Minnesota State Fair, to see friends, and to the Metrodome, which was hosting a Minnesota Vikings pre-season game with the Dallas Cowboys. This was the first game held since the Metrodome roof collapse last winter. The Metrodome infrastructure got improved because that was important.
Bridges were also damaged in Hurricane Irene, though without the damage that occurred that fateful August 1, 2007. In the I-35W bridge collapse, 13 people died and 145 more were injured.
But unlike the bridges damaged in the hurricane, the Minneapolis bridge had been suffering from being “structurally deficient.” Failure fell on several layers of responsibility.
That bridge collapse four years ago should have reminded us that in building the Great Society that repairs need to be made. And in tough economic times, extra jobs are certainly welcome.
However, infrastructure spending doesn’t jibe with the current Republican thinking. Do they not remember that Dwight Eisenhower gets credit for pushing through the Interstate Highway System? Build in Iraq, Afghanistan? Go for it, says the GOP, and hire our contractors. Build in the USA? Not unless it’s a fence with Mexico.
Beyond the tragedy of the I35-W bridge collapse in 2007 was the speed in which the new bridge was built, one year’s time. When you see the new bridge, that timetable is rather impressive.
The urgency that came with rebuilding that bridge should be copied and laid across this crumbling land of ours. That urgency should have also come from President Obama, though urgency isn’t one of his strong suits.
Rebuilding America’s infrastructure would not have completely solved the economic chaos of the last few years. But think about how many small businesses would have had more money because more consumers could spend in places. How 7% unemployment, a figure that would be too high in normal times, sounds a lot better than 9% employment.
We love to drive on roads and complain about road construction at the same time, but infrastructure isn’t just roads. Electrical grids, crumbling school roofs, energy efficiency conversions, high-speed rail and overall train track maintenance.
Right now, interest rates are so low that the U.S. government can’t pass up the opportunity to improve its infrastructure. The United States has a stellar track record of rebuilding in the last 70 years. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other countries have seen the benefits of American rebuilding. Now is the time to see that American know-how and determination — another Marshall Plan? — right here in the good ol’ USA.