London’s Bridge Isn’t the Only One Falling Down

WFYI recently shared some sobering news with Hoosier drivers:

 Indiana’s bridges were built to last 75 years, and half are at least 50 years old.  INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning says about 7 percent are in what he calls “poor condition” – not that they’re unsafe, just that it will cost a lot to fix them.

At current funding levels, that percentage will rise to 12.5 percent in 10 years. In order to keep the percentage of bridges in poor condition at about 8 percent, Browning says funding needs to increase about $60 million a year for the next 10 years.  And he says an ideal level is less than 3 percent of bridges in poor condition.

“And in order to achieve that, that’s nearly a hundred million dollars more a year than we have available to spend today for the next 20 years,” Browning said.

I think it was Eric Hoffer who said a civilization should be measured not by the buildings and monuments its citizens erect, but by their maintenance of the built environment–especially its infrastructure. He was right.

Our crumbling roads and bridges testify to how short-sighted and selfish we Americans have become. We don’t plant trees that our grandchildren will sit under. (If we can’t enjoy it tomorrow, then screw it!) We complain when we are asked to invest in public goods that will serve future generations–schools, libraries, public health. When we do pave our roads, we do it on the cheap. (Let the next Mayor/Governor do it over.)

The irony is, we could have addressed the Great Recession by using the cheap money and abundant labor to fix our decaying infrastructure. We could have put thousands of people back to work, ended the recession more quickly, and improved the deteriorated roads, bridges and electrical grids that we will hand off to our children and theirs.

Worse– we all know that when the bridges fail and people are killed or injured, the “fiscal hawks” who’ve been waging war on the very idea of government, the same people who’ve adamantly refused to give that government the resources it requires in order to function properly, will blame…wait for it….government.

I get so discouraged…..


  1. I have to believe that this can all be laid at the (clay) feet of President Reagan who said government is not the solution, it’s the problem. 30 years later it’s still conservative chic to bash public service.

  2. My son, who is a geologist, worked on a project involving eroded stream beds under bridge supports many years ago. He told us then that many bridges along the Ohio and Wabash were in poor condition and getting worse. It has only gotten worse as he predicted.

    By repeatedly underfunding maintenance of our existing public infrastructure and building new projects with no plan for long-term maintenance, those bent on down-sizing government are insuring the failure of government so they can then point the finger of blame and continue to place services into private hands, to our detriment, as is apparent in funding failed charter schools and the Indiana Toll Road bankruptcy, to name just a few examples.

  3. The situation is even worse than Sheila describes. Because as the day arrives that we’ve put off repairing our infrastructure to, we will also be faced with the largest project mankind has ever been faced with. The conversion of our energy infrastructure to sustainable. Boy, how dumb are we? Oh well, our kids will bail us out. (If they can.)

    Some of the stuff we’ll have dumped on them.

    Mitigation. The building of an entirely new system of harvesting and using energy. I like to use the term “harvesting” because it’s more accurate than “creating” energy. One of the ways that we’ve managed to fool ourselves is to think that we are capable of making energy when in reality our supply comes daily from the sun. And we use a lot given 7B people all aspiring to live like Americans. (How dare they!)

    Of course, even if we weren’t screwing up the climate that we built civilization adapted to we’d still have this project to do in the next 100 years or so as fossil fuels run out. Now we can’t afford to wait that long.

    Included in “mitigating” is not throwing away about half of the energy that we harvest. Rebuilding transportation and buildings and industry to the new reality of precious energy rather than the throw away kind that we’ve gotten used to.

    Then there are the now inevitable projects required to re-adapt the civilization that we’ve built over the centuries to the reality of higher sea levels, rearranged precipitation, more acidic seas messing with our supply of sea food, houses built to withstand more violent weather and relocation of millions from what once were inhabital lands. Of course the slower we mitigate the more we’ll have to re-adapt. (Perhaps some of those bridges will not have to be rebuilt but relocated.)

    Of course to the degree that we can’t mitigate the problem or re-adapt civilization to quickly enough we’re stuck with recovery. We’re already investing billions of dollars annually and thousands of lives into this. (Can we really call it investing when the return is to get the people who survive back to where they were?)

    One of God’s little jokes on us is to allow idiocy to reign here exactly at the most critical time in history for political heroes. Perhaps He’s balancing the score from having equipped us to survive WWII.

  4. It isn’t only major bridges that are falling down; over a year ago the entire middle section of cement wall on the south side of the 16th Street bridge over Pleasant Run Creek disappeared. No idea what happened to it; for a few months the middle half of the opening had two 6 ft. sawhorses in front of it. They disappeared and for weeks there was nothing blocking the open dropoff into the creek. Then two 3 ft sawhorses sat through part of the summer, they were replaced with 2 sections of cement retaining wall sitting on the sidewalk in front of the opening with gaps at both ends and between the sections. This is a neighborhood with children; the EPA regularly tests the water in the creek after e coli was found in it 5-6 years ago.

  5. “Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore likens today’s fossil fuels to the subprime mortgages of the last decade that triggered the global credit crisis. Their value “is based on an assumption every bit as absurd,” specifically the notion that all known oil, gas and coal will be consumed.’

    ““Investors who haven’t yet come to grips with the stranding problem are like the classic scene in the Road Runner cartoons where the coyote runs off the edge of the cliff, and his legs keep moving for quite a long time before gravity takes hold,” Gore said by phone from Nashville, Tennessee. “There are investors out there whose legs are moving in mid-air.””

  6. I really try and think hard to post replies that will make you feel less discouraged but, alas, again I cannot.
    From the Dept of tragic irony comes the false narrative of former IN Governor “Someone’s Man Mitch” Daniels, who advances the notion in his book and “non-political” speeches in right wing forums that our great nation is being plundered into oblivion by the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Of course, he is NOT talking about how the record setting national budget deficits have accrued as a result of primarily the Bush tax cuts, but rather due to the lazy group of Seniors and Senior wannabe’s that are now or hope to be sucking on the teet of federal largess by cashing their Social Security checks and filing Medicare health claims.

    But to make things even worse, this same blood-sucking generation of parasites ALSO signed away ALL future revenue from the Indiana Toll Road in a 75 year lease and in exchange they got the crazy stupidly outlandish sum of $3.8 BILLION. And that’s a good thing. No one will get a private/public contract on terms anywhere near that. Ever. But you know what else those lazy sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation did? Then went and SPENT all but $500 million of that $3.8B in 5 years on a small handful of projects around the state, one of which was to EXPAND the US Interstate Highway System from Evansville to somewhere out in the middle of NOWHERE. The cost? A cool $2 Bil. The cost to connect NOWHERE to Bloomington and then REPLACE the existing connection from Bloomington to Indy (SR37)? Another cool Bil. But THANK GOD…we can now sleep better knowing that no Democrats will get elected in those South Central Indiana counties for a long time. The rest? Adding LANES to the Interstate Highway System in the doughnut counties around Indy, so that all those taxpayers can enjoy the amenities our fair state capital has to offer but without having to actually live in it.
    An what is the useful economic LIFE of this new or expanded infrastructure? About 30 years. So there you have it. $3.2 Billion that COULD have been used to replace damn near every bridge in Indiana; could have been used to resurface all of I65, I69, I70, I74 and I465 and STILL had money left over to build new stuff. Of course if you are a properly inoculated Hoosier conservative, you believe that all these investments will pay for themselves 10 times over through economic development. Yeah, just like all tax cuts pay for themselves.
    But no. Those old relics of the “Me Generation” just had to burn through it like kids in a Colorado cannabis shop.
    And Mr. Daniels led the way.

  7. The recent announcement that Indiana is facing a tax revenue shortfall should make for entertaining political theatre. It will be interesting to watch how the republican majority dances around touching the $2B surplus to preserve President Pence’s legacy. Of course, at the cost of the population at large. Can’t afford health care, education, infrastructure, environmental programs – but that surplus can’t be touched.

    The real problem is that now that the republicans have broken the unions and outsourced labor to the lowest bidder, there is an ever decreasing number of consumers who are also paying less and less in taxes, commensurate with the wages the earn. It’s a beautiful model. The budget discussion among republicans will have to be masterfully word-smithed.

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