August 2, 2007 12:37 PM PDT

Aging infrastructure at heart of Minnesota disaster

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August 25, 2006
The collapse of a major bridge in Minnesota on Wednesday is a symptom of a larger problem: the infrastructure in the U.S. isn't maintained as well as it could be.

"We just don't have enough inspectors and inspections," said William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. "It didn't surprise me. It is a tragedy, but unfortunately it doesn't surprise me."

At least 79 people are injured and 4 have been confirmed dead after a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minnesota collapsed on Wednesday, according to several reports. Several cars were also trapped in the rubble.

To a large degree, the difficulty of adequately maintaining infrastructure is caused by the sheer scope of the task. "Did you know that there are over 600,000 bridges in the U.S.?" Ibbs said. "And there are also pipelines, roads, dams, schools."

Bridge collapse
Credit: David Denney/Minneapolis
Star Tribune/MCT
This bridge on I-35 over the
Mississippi River in Minneapolis
collapsed during evening rush hour
Wednesday, killing several people
and injuring dozens more.

More than 500 bridges failed in the U.S. during the 1990s, he said. Some were sudden, spectacular failures of commuter bridges that involved fatalities. The majority, however, were out-of-the-way bridges that often failed slowly, or at least in an observable way that gave people advance warning of danger.

But age and budget shortfalls are also factors.

"The age of the infrastructure in the U.S. is old. A lot of the highways and bridges are 30 to 35 years old," said Essam Zaghloul, CEO of Fiber Optic Systems Technology, also known as Fox-Tek. "The roads are old, and they aren't always safe." (The type of bridge that collapsed in Minnesota, an arch bridge, was popular in the 1950s, said Ibbs, but it was phased out when engineers came up with new designs that were cheaper to construct.)

The Toronto-based Fox-Tek has created a fiber-optic sensor system that monitors the health of steel structures. It primarily sells its systems--which can cost tens of thousands of dollars--to oil companies that want to prevent leaks in oil pipelines, or to other private sector clients. It has sold systems to monitor bridges and other public works, but has largely backed out of pursuing more of this business because most government agencies don't have the budgets to fund such projects.

"They try to manage the best they can with the funds they have," Zaghloul said.

The Fox-Tek system detects minute changes in the strain of a structure due to internal corrosion or other factors. The changes in the strain are forwarded via a fiber link to a ground station near the sensor. The data gathered is then converted mathematically into a predicted rate of failure.

The data then lets building owners schedule preventive maintenance.

It isn't just big structures such as bridges that have people worried. In Massachusetts in the last two weeks, officials have been scrutinizing manhole covers and storm drains after a driver was badly injured by a grate dislodged by a truck. Other incidents have since been reported in the greater Boston area, and crews are scrambling to weld the metal elements in place.

And it's not just public infrastructure that's at risk. Private facilities break too. BP got into hot water last year after pipeline leaks in Alaska. The leaks were attributed to corrosion and led to a multimillion-dollar cleanup.

See more CNET content tagged:
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Nothing New
In our rush to cut taxes, both on the Federal and local level, is anyone really surprised about this? It is a tragedy that something like this had to alert people to the problems, but we will forget about it in a week or so....

Paying for the repair of streets, and water systems, and wastewater systems is not a high priority and we always pay out more in the long run then spending the necessary funds for maintenance. Same issues as health insurance. Nobody needs government until a tragedy happens...
Posted by mgbergman (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
false goal
Raising taxes is a false goal. Raising safety is a true goal.

Remember that you aren't talking about raising the total amount of tax revenue the government collects. The government already collects more money every year. You are talking about increase the tax rate.

Here is what I mean, if you take 10% of 1 million, that is $100,000. If you take 10% of 2 million, that is $200,000. You can leave the tax rate the same, and collect more taxes.

What people usually mean, when they demand higher taxes, is they want the tax rate to increase, and for the government to take a greater percentage of the economy. when the government has 100% of the economy, that is called a planned economy, a.l.a. like the Soviet Union used to have.

I don't know how close someone wants to come to that, or how far away from that you'd like to be, but I do want to point out a fact.

Which is that as a percentage of the economy, bridge maintenance goes down every year, not up. So you would think taxes could be lowered, not increased. By that I mean, the number of bridges in the country doesn't grow nearly as fast as the overall economy grows. You have a doubling of the economy in a certain number of takes far far longer to have a doubling in the number of bridges. Thats because the number of rivers just doesn't ever change. We get a few more roads, but it doesn't change a lot either.

So you the person thinking that raising taxes is the solution...the problem isn't that we don't have a lot of tax money, we do. The problem is we don't spend it on bridge repair. It goes for fighting foreign wars, government entitlement programs...and other things. Politicians don't make a name for themselves by concentrating on basic government services

Its a tragedy, but not likely to today's politicians more money, is like giving a sailor more to drink. Don't expect the money to find its way to bridge repair.
Posted by rdupuy11 (908 comments )
Link Flag
Have you noticed the cost of government going down?
Tax cuts are not the problem; the cost of government at all levels is going monotonically UP. The problem is that politicians do not do the things government should do (like infrastructure). Instead, they spend vast sums on projects that should be handled by private companies or charitable organizations. However, these projects buy a lot of votes.

In this state alone, the governor has raided >$100M from the highway trust fund to pay for "other priorities". As a result, a state with no toll roads has to build them now.
Posted by bc_bc (1 comment )
Link Flag
Government is never the problem, always the solution
I love it. When government projects fail the proposed solution is always more government.
Posted by solrosenberg (124 comments )
Link Flag
Basic economics
Cut the tax rate, and more money changes hands in the private economy, increasing revenue. True, it can get cut too far and revenue decreases, but since when is the government going to do that?

Nope, the problem is corruption in government, big government, and entitlement spending. Cut them and more money will be availible for bridges and roads.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
It's not tax cuts...
It's the utter cluelessness, corruption, and disconnection from reality that makes our poilitions responsible for this. They would much rather craft legislation that throws little Johnny in jail for 20 years if he copies his friends MP3, raid the homes and prosecute people who sell PS2/3 and XBox mod chips, and care absolutely nothing about the budget crisis that has cut off medical access for millions of poor tax payers, and aging roads and infrastructure issues. The entire political system in this country is completely useless. Polititions are completely useless. At this rate, more would get done under a monarchy or empire than gets done now.
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Link Flag
1. The high-tech future for the Army

2. Aging infrastructure at heart of Minnesota disaster

That pretty well says it all!
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
very, very, very, very few people make such connections. Instead they eat what they are spoonfed on tv by politicians and corporations.

Our government has turned into a corporation. At least, it has turned into a lapdog of special interests. Yet we continue to elect the same people over and over again. B/c we don't take the time to think for ourselves, we let others do that for us.
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
I'm confused!!
There are buildings and bridges, around the world that have been used for hundred of years some more than a thousand. Until the Empire state building was built in the last century the tallest building in the world, the Dali Lama's temple, was made of dirt (rammed earth) several centuries ago. In this country we toss out school buildings because they are "too old to fix" after only 30-35 yrs!!!
In other parts of the world they are driving over bridges that were made back before cars were invented. Our bridges are old after 30-35 yrs!!!
I'm confused !!!!
Posted by yepperdepper (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the rest of the world, in regards to modern buildings and structures, are built using very strong materials. Think about it...why do you think Europeans and other nations around the world (developed ones at least) wonder why we have so much destruction and why we build stupidly in this country, when hurricanes and other natural disasters strike us. For example in Europe they build every house out of reinforced concrete or bricks. I know b/c I was born and lived there for 14 years.

Here one fact. In Germany, their autobahns (highways) are repaired as soon as there is a crack noticed on the road. The section is blocked off and repaved. That is why they technically don't have speed limits outside of urban centers. And they can do that b/c roads are basicall new all the time. They don't allow even smallest cracks to get by. Would you drive 120 mph on a bunch of potholes on I95 or whatever other interstate it might be.

Um...think about this one...How about we start building homes in hurricane and tornado prone areas out of full concrete? Winds won't be a problem. Hurricane hit Spain last year but you did't see no houses leveled and splattered all over the ground...

nuff said...
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Not just about how old it is.
How well a structure withstand forces imparted on it is a function of what type the forces are (dead load, live load, intensity, etc.) If designed properly, and built under strict quality control, structures will last a long time, if maintained properly. Structures that are subjected to variable live loads will of course need to be replaced sooner than those subjected to mostly dead loads. Also, structures made of concrete actually may increase in strength over time since concrete gets stronger with age.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
Not just about how old it is.
How well a structure withstand forces imparted on it is a function of what type the forces are (dead load, live load, intensity, etc.) If designed properly, and built under strict quality control, structures will last a long time, if maintained properly. Structures that are subjected to variable live loads will of course need to be replaced sooner than those subjected to mostly dead loads. Also, structures made of concrete actually may increase in strength over time since concrete gets stronger with age.
Posted by oxtail01 (308 comments )
Link Flag
Military Welfare State
Over half of federal spending is on the military and paying interest
on military spending debt. For this money you get a continual
stream of manufactured "enemies" and "wars". The U.S. now has
14% inflation, unemployment in the same neighborhood, and
negative GDP (see shadow statistics for these real numbers).
Welcome to your life in the military welfare state.
Posted by expatincebu (156 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree that government is not reporting true inflation numbers. How in the hell can you not count the cost of food and energy into inflation? The rest of the world does it and we even do it to them when we estimate other countries' inflations, specifically in Africa. Not to mention not reporting the total debt of US, currently standing at 50 trillion (minus the interest). Look it up. If you don't know how...go here: and type in "real inflation united states." And not to mention other stuff that is not being reported. They even recently dropped one measurement that basically enables them to hide inflation numbers by not reporting some facts. I can't recall it but it was "M" something.

I just cant comprehend how people are not realizing these facts.

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Plenty of reading material here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

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Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Slight correction
When you add it all up, The new stuff and maintaining what we already have as well as the ancillary costs, research, civilian employees, CIA, NSA, military retirement and benefits etc. The percentage is closer to 2/3. That leaves 1/3 for everything else the government does.

Why are the schools falling apart and our infrastructure shambles. Gee! I wonder?
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
The other bridge
The other bridge that is still standing I-35, Is it going to be able to
handle the load, that is going to be placed on it, or is it going to
fail too?
Posted by Vonmaxx (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
nah don't worry
at least until something and point this bridge collapse.

That is our government policy basically. While cities are busy building stadiums, giving tax incentives to rich corporations to come locally, etc., the lifeblood of this nation is going into shambles. FYI: most of our goods are transported by trucks in the continental US. Ahem, our economy depends on it. What's the point of building a stadium if the bridhe leading to it is going to collapse?
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Other bridge
The other bridge you see in photos is not part of I35. It is an older, small, city street bridge.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
What other bridge?
That was the I-35 bridge, if you're talking about the other bridge in the picture thats 10th ave.
Posted by kaufmanmoore (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So what?
You don't think it will see increased traffic? I don't know the area, what other way is there to cross? Are those other ways structurally sound?

It is more then a valid question to ask if it has structural deficiencies.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Link Flag
The Liberal Democrat answer to everything - more taxes & bigger government
If a bridge needs repair or replacement, the state (yes the STATE, not the Federal Government) should repair or fix it and put toll booths on it so the people who use the bridge pay for it.

There's no reason I should have to pay for a bridge 2000 miles away that I will never use.
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You/We already are Taxed far too much
You/we are already Taxed far too much in USA - but we just dont get NOTHING for our already High Taxes except a a gargantuan Military and one unnecessary War after another.
So the problem is not the "liberal democrats" that want to Tax you more, but it is the Big (right) wing media backed politicians that do nothing for YOU/Me for all the Taxes we already pay. See my main post to see more details.
Posted by Sea of Cortez (67 comments )
Link Flag
Why is it that most people who gripe about Liberal Democrats...
Why is it that most people who gripe about Liberal Democrats tend to be the people who live from paycheck to paycheck? From my experience, people on the right wing of the political spectrum, tend to operate on an emotional level while liberals tend to operate on an intellectual level.

When you have a political conversation with a conservative, they tend to use arguments that they have picked up from TV or talk radio or such. Most liberals think for themselves, and use there own arguments.

Most liberals I know make more money than they spend. Most liberals I know buy Lots of cool toys, quite a few pay cash for there cars and houses. Most conservatives I know spend there days broke and angry.

If you want to be successful, stop blaming others for your own shortcomings. Take responsibility for your own life. You can fix it. It's not anyone else's fault that your life sucks.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
It's about $$$
With all the entitlements we can no longer afford to maintain our infrastructure and national security. We are already living off the income of our great, great, great grandchildren. Financing our wants along with our needs will soon be a thing of the past.
Posted by Seashell-Bob (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What do u expect of the country that does not even have Universal Healthcar
To see why US bridges are collapsing or why 450 people have been shot dead in Philadelphia
alone so far this year whereas in whole of Europe (population 2 times of whole of US) not
450 people have been shot to death all you have to do is consider the following facts:

1- US does not even provide its citizens with such basic &#38; necessary service as Universal Healthcare. Whereas in Europe they get Universal Healthcare, Education, Daycare &#38; more. Can you imagine how much healthier &#38; more educated &#38; relaxed they are as a result!

2- They have excellent public Transpiration systems in Europe, whereas we have 3rd world
country class public Transportation and crumbling. Just take the TGV from Paris to anywhere
in France and then take Amtrak in US and you will see my point.

3- We pay the same taxes as Europeans, if not even more in most cases, when you consider
property Taxes that we pay which they dont. But we just get NOTHING for our Taxes except
a gargantuan Military, one unnecessary War after another and a few multi Billionaires.

And that is why Europeans societies &#38; economy are getting stronger &#38; richer as you can
see by the ever rising Euro against the Dollar.

The question is then HOW is it possible that we pay same Taxes as European &#38; Canadians but get just about NOTHING of the social (Universal) services that they get and as a result we
are getting poorer &#38; poorer every day? The answer is the lies &#38; lies of the Big media in USA.
From "The reason why Iraq was invaded", to "What is happening in Iraq now..", to "We have
better health care than Europeans or Canadians..", etc. etc. etc.
And the Big media is not just CNN, CBS, WSJ, NYT, Fox, etc. but it is also Google, Yahoo
and every other source of information that is Wall Street based.

What is the answer? It is for us to find alternative &#38; independent sources of information.
That is why we recommend the following:
get your search engine information from AnooX (,
get your news from RealNews (
or find other alternative &#38; independent sources of information, just dont get them from the
Big media in US.
Posted by Sea of Cortez (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We also have universal education, available to every one.

Run your post through MS Word and see how well you stack up, and consider if you want such outstanding results from government funded medical care.

But, if you want a practical example of centralized and government funded medical care, catch up on the one we have here in the US. The one called "Veterans' Administration".
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
US highways
I take it you are against the interstate highway system in general? And the federal highway system?
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So, why is your once mighty country little more than a third world nation now?
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Terrorists Are Destroying U.S. (Indirectly)
Guess What? The Terrorists are definitely winning the "War On Terrorism"! Just as Reagan-omics gradually won the Cold War by bleeding dry the U.S.S.R. economy, Al Queada and its allies are bleeding ours to death, thanks to the ultra-stupidity of the current administration. Bush's blind "War On Terrorism" is hastening our domestic collapse. The bridge disaster in Minneapolis is just one dramatic example of the "Bush Blind Madness" policy. We are dying an ignoble death. The "Arab-Nazis" are dancing a jig, like that gory picture of Hitler...
Posted by Veritas_Photo (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How low can we go?
The US government never has a problem coughing up hundreds of billions for a war based on lies. Not too mention sacrificing thousands of US and hundreds of thousand Iraqi lives for that lie.

Yet, they never have enough money for education, health care and infrastructure. All vital to the overall health and success of our country.

We are only beginning to pay for the all the poor decisions of the US over the past 50 years. There is much more of this sort of infrastructure failure to come.

I just wonder how long it will take for the majority of Americans to realize it and then demand change. We are rotting from the core and yet we still do not change.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hold tight, your'e going to find out.......
firstly my condolences to all concerned.

The military complex is is such an intergral part of the U.S. economy, that to curtail military spending would have a negative effect on Gross Domestic Product. As G.D.P. is a key economic indicator, a reduction in military spending would very likely place pressure on inflation.

This tragedy is a indicator of the fundamental floor in an economy that supports investment in military above public infastructure.

People are a nation's greatest investment, not machines of war.

Finding the political will to unravel this sorry state of affairs will be a monumental challenge in itself - let alone the funds to maintain your aging infrastructure.

Good luck for the future.
Posted by m.o.t.u. (96 comments )
Link Flag
Silly jumping to conclusions
I listened to some 19 year old announcer on CNN today ask whether you would go over a bridge that
scored 50 deficiencies? She was confused about the numbers but even more confused about what "deficiencies" meant. Actually, a deficiency
rarely involves structural integrity issues. The bridge that fell was deemed perfectly safe despite that 50 score. If the cause were metal fatigue, not visible due to paint, then perhaps sandblasting of critically important structural members may be required in the future for inspections. I also saw a new electronic device that can monitor the movements of the various parts of the bridge and report any changes in behavior to local computers. This would be a very valuable method of preventing loss of life. nearly always a bridge starts acting funky before it falls, and changes are often noted by those who travel the bridges every day. The media is eternally confused whenever they deal with technology (politicians too, who seem to be mostly trying to figure out how to play this bridge collapse to their advantage). The media needs to have a bridge engineer look over their news scripts and remove all the hysterical BS these news channels are broadcasting. They're trying to scare woman drivers away from driving over bridges.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My guess is that the problem was caused by the repairs.
It is still to early to speculate about a cause, but I will anyway. I would guess that the construction team that was working on the bridge cut a beam that had far too little redundancy.

I am not saying that the construction team did a sloppy or negligent job. Sometimes things go badly even when you do everything right. I hope that we do not make honest workers into scape goats (If someone did violate procedure and cause this accident, they should be brought up on charges).
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bridge wasnt designed for the present load
All other things about our government set aside I will say this.

I live in this area and see firsthand what kind of congestion problem we have here.I seriously doubt this bridge was designed with todays load in mind.Well over 100,000 vehicles used this bridge daily.Although this is an 8 lane freeway,at rush hour it gets so congested that traffic slows to a stop at times and is bumper to bumper.At the time this happened (6pm rush hour) the 4 northbound lanes were basically at a standstill and full of vehicles from one end of the bridge to the other.The southbound lanes did not contain nowhere near the congestion so we had a lopsided load as well.This particular bridge also didnt have any center support by design.The construction that was being done at the time had absolutely nothing to do with the supports of the bridge and is not to blame here.

Like alot of the freeways and highways here it was built in the late 60s and 40 years later the demand is so high that many become congested at the morning and evening rush hours.I might also add that the temperature that day peaked at 92 degrees F.The other bridge you see in the picture is 10th av.

For now the traffic is being diverted to MN highway 280 to I-94 where you can get back to 35W from there.280 is a 4 lane highway to I94 so I see the congestion there is really heavy now and backs up the entire I35 from the 393 to 694 loop.
The worst part is it will take YEARS to rebuild this thing and will undoubtably be of better design.we hope.
Posted by djcrazy-mpls (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the loop is the 494 (NOT 393) to 694 loop.I typoed there lol
Posted by djcrazy-mpls (15 comments )
Link Flag
America Already has plenty of "free preventive care."
In NY if your poor or indigent, you can live comfortably off state cheese. How do you meaningfully implement a hybrid ?preventative care? and private insurance health care system?

What about fat people, who claim to not be able to help themselves and in 5 years gets diabetes, heart disease or crashes their car in to a bus full of children because their asthma acts up and they can?t breath? This is probably the greatest medical funding black hole there is. Being fat is completely preventable but and not conducive to good health. Yet this is America and can enjoy such frivolous and oxymoronic things as fried ice cream.

What about hood rats that eat nothing but hoho?s, fast food, and grape drink, and chill on the porch from 2pm til midnight? That?s not nutrition. And what happens when these hood rats turn 14 and have a new liter of broodlings? NYS will step in and give free baby formula and healthcare to the darling mother and children. Again, human behavior complicates matters.

Preventive care is what human beings should do to themselves without the governments help or interference. Eat fruit and vegetables, go for a walk, volunteer, plant a tree, read a book to a kid, be a mentor, advocate for those who cant, run for elected office, and you shouldn?t have time for bad habits.
Posted by R.Jefferson (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As if
Only those that have bad habits get ill.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Link Flag

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