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Thoughts About the Washington State Bridge Collapse and Transportation
Posted By Emily Goff On May 24, 2013 @ 1:46 pm In Ongoing Priorities | Comments Disabled
Thankfully there were no fatalities in the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge that crosses the Skagit River in Washington State last night. The thoughts and prayers of The Heritage Foundation are with the people injured and their families.
As is the case immediately following any tragedy, it is too early to know what caused the bridge to suddenly collapse. Initial news reports  suggest an 18-wheeler with an oversized load hit the overhead structure of the bridge, triggering the collapse. Inspections by the National Transportation Safety Board will provide clarification in due time.
Yet what surely will come are the calls for more revenue and more infrastructure spending, as lawmakers, lobbyists, and other special interests seize  the present political opportunity. This was the case following the tragic Minnesota bridge collapse in August 2007. Then, Members of Congress called for a higher federal gas tax, an infrastructure bank, and even additional funds for Amtrak, among other proposals.
As Heritage experts wrote then , these urgent calls for more spending—and revenue increases to pay for it—assume that insufficient funding for bridges was what caused the collapse in the first place. As reports revealed, a design flaw was chief among the problems.
It is also important to note that the Skagit bridge, built in 1955, is classified as functionally obsolete, which is another way of saying its design is outdated. A bridge can be functionally obsolete if its clearance is lower than required for newer trucks that might seek to pass over it, for example, or if the number of lanes on the bridge has not kept pace with an increase in the number of lanes of a connecting highway.
It doesn’t always make economic sense to update functionally obsolete bridges, either, if the number of vehicles that pass over it don’t lead to structural safety concerns or don’t justify the economic investment.
The growing chorus among some in the transportation community and on Capitol Hill has been to embark on an immediate and gargantuan spending spree to repair what they refer to as the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure .” Calling for sufficient repair and maintenance of the nation’s highways and bridges is not misguided. Much of this infrastructure—including the Skagit bridge—was built decades ago, is reaching the end of its useful life, and needs repair and modernization. And to their credit, even the alarmists point out that a safe, sound system of highways and bridges is essential to transporting goods efficiently across the country and facilitating economic growth.
But lawmakers should be wary when these alarmists and political opportunists let their cries suggest a national emergency of the acutest kind. In addition to waiting to see what inspectors find surrounding the Washington bridge collapse, lawmakers should consider the following questions before making any policy proposals:
This bridge collapse should not give way to a frenzied search for new revenues, which will surely spawn so-called innovative and creative solutions to raise infrastructure funds. Rather, it should be a sober wake-up call to lawmakers that they must clean house—reexamine how they are spending available transportation dollars  and redeploy them to programs that cost-effectively improve safety and mobility and reduce congestion.
Alan Pisarski  is an independent consultant in Virginia.
Article printed from The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation: http://blog.heritage.org
URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2013/05/24/thoughts-about-the-washington-state-bridge-collapse-and-transportation/
URLs in this post:
 Image: http://blog.heritage.org/wp-content/uploads/Bridge130524.jpg
 news reports: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/24/us/washington-bridge-collapse/index.html
 seize: http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2007/10/frittering-away-road-money
 wrote then: http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2007/08/what-we-dont-yet-know-about-the-minnesota-bridge-collapse
 crumbling infrastructure: http://www.newgeography.com/content/003134-warnings-infrastructure-crisis-are-meeting-with-skepticism
 17 percent: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/01/transit-policy-in-an-era-of-the-shrinking-federal-dollar
 $12.3 million: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/legsregs/directives/notices/n4510761/n4510761t2.htm
 $655 million: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/table2013.cfm
 constraints Washington, D.C., imposes: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/09/congress-should-free-essential-bridge-repairs-from-davis-bacon-restrictions
 drop in the bucket: http://blog.heritage.org/2013/05/14/quiet-before-the-storm-cbo-reports-642-billion-deficit-in-2013/
 how they are spending available transportation dollars: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/04/highway-trust-fund-needs-to-be-reprioritized-to-improve-mobility
 Alan Pisarski: http://alanpisarski.com/
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