Sunday, August 5, 2007

Who's responsible?

Editorial - Star-Telegram - Sat. Aug. 4, 2007
Anyone who owns a home, a commercial building or even a car knows that the most difficult money to spend is for preventive maintenance. Other priorities always seem -- at the time -- more pressing and important.

And then something goes wrong. In hindsight, it's easy to see that money spent in prevention actually would have saved money -- and sometimes, more important, lives.

Governments are no different.

Extensive investigations and angry accusations are sure to follow this week's Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Someone, somewhere, is to blame and must be held responsible. But it is a collective responsibility.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution clearly states the duties of government: to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

And who is responsible for establishing that list of priorities? It's right there as well: "We the people."

Federal figures show that more than 70,000 bridges are rated structurally deficient in the United States -- 75 of them in Tarrant County, 23 of those with rating lower than the Minneapolis bridge. The Associated Press reported that the estimated cost of repairing them all is more than $188 billion and would take a generation.

And this doesn't even address bridges identified as "functionally obsolete," generally meaning they are too small to handle the traffic load over them. Tarrant County is home to 423 bridges with that classification.

The Federal Highway Administration says that the structurally deficient classification "does not immediately imply that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe" but that it does require hands-on inspection and significant maintenance and repair to remain in service. It also will require eventual rehabilitation or replacement.

We have no choice about replacing bridges that fail. But we do have a choice about what we do with those in need of repair.

We the People elect politicians -- local, state and federal -- to fulfill the responsibilities cited in the Constitution. They are the people who have to vote to spend our money. And they also have to be responsive to voters who demand more services even as they scream about paying taxes.

Investigations eventually will establish the exact cause of the Minneapolis collapse. But the fix for the nation's rapidly aging and increasingly obsolete infrastructure is philosophical.
Read more in the Star Telegram

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