What has changed?

Two recent events clearly illustrate the lack of infrastructure action in this country. Over 30 Midwest levee failures earlier this summer as a result of torrential rainfalls and the one-year anniversary of the I-35W Bridge collapse in Minnesota continue to show how federal and state governments have been ineffective in addressing the needs of our crumbling infrastructure.

Take the levee situation for example. Following the devastating Midwest floods along the Mississippi River in 1993, those levees and others were evaluated and deemed deficient. Yet 15 years later nothing had been done to fortify those structures.

Again, in the case of the bridge collapse, our government officials promised a thorough investigation to determine the cause and ordered immediate inspections of similar bridges.

Yes, investigations did determine that the bridge failed as a result of an undersized gusset plate. But earlier inspections of the bridge detected a lack of structural integrity in the gusset plates that were holding the bridge together. The decision at the time was to continue monitoring the structural elements, rather than replacing them.

So what?s the point in conducting inspections if nothing is done to remedy a problem? If the answer is money, the cost is only going to increase the longer it?s left to continue deteriorating, and in the case of the Minnesota bridge or the Midwest levees, the cost is measured in the loss of life and billions of dollars in damages.

With so much of our infrastructure in dire need of repair, hundreds of billions will be needed to get the job done. It?s not an easy fix and it?s one that can?t be addressed in a short amount of time, but our government representatives need to make it a priority.

After the bridge collapse, a government report stated that 26 percent of the nation?s bridges were deficient ? requiring some work. Will 15 years pass without addressing those deficiencies only to result in another collapse?

But the failure to address the infrastructure needs of this country is not simply a safety issue. The lack of action also has a detrimental impact on our economic vibrancy. Numerous reports have detailed lost productivity estimates due to an inadequate surface infrastructure. Congestion and delays add hours of lost productivity to commuters, longer haul times for truckers transporting the goods we all need, and added fuel consumption by vehicles stuck in traffic.

With the fall elections just around the corner, it?s important for all of us to make sure our political leaders are committed to addressing this issue. Bridge and levee failures are unacceptable. Generating an inspection report without action is unacceptable.

We need to let our elected officials know that the only acceptable solution is for federal and state governments to establish a funding mechanism that supports the work required to maintain and improve our infrastructure and then make sure those funds are spent on that work.

Greg Udelhofen, Editor