Tim Gregorski
Tim Gregorski

I know it's the middle of February, but imagine a perfect summer evening driving across a bridge over the Mississippi outside of Minneapolis, radio playing, windows down, and there is a cool breeze blowing. Just about the time you're thinking “life couldn't get any better,” the bottom drops out.

You likely know the rest of the story per the I-35W bridge that collapsed outside of Minneapolis in August 2007. Hard to believe it has been six months since that horrible night and that this catastrophic event spurred a much needed scrutiny of the nation's infrastructure. Thousands of bridges have been examined, 26% of which have been deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Meanwhile the roads, highways, and interstates are in a similar crumbling state.

Currently, the nation and politicos fix their attention on the mortgage foreclosures affecting the housing industry, placing our infrastructure problems in the back seat—way in the back in terms of priority.

When was the last time you read or heard any information about the state of bridges or roads in your area? Here in Chicago, the only comparable story that I have come across pertains to the numerous potholes, which mostly are found in asphalt roads, by the way.

Some of you in the Midwest may have read about the rebuilding of the I-35W bridge as construction of the new concrete abutments is underway. This construction began before the cause of the collapse was even determined.

I wanted to bring the reconstruction of the I-35W bridge to your attention because I recently attended a series of meetings involving concrete and transportation professionals. I left the meeting disappointed because there was very little mention of the I-35W bridge collapse, let alone discussion regarding the status of the nation's infrastructure. I spoke with a few contractors from around the country, each of which mentioned that transportation-related business was steady but they did not experience, nor did they expect, any additional business as a result of the bridge collapse.

As you recall, in the weeks after the bridge had failed there was an abundance of talk regarding the poor state of the nation's transportation infrastructure, as well as the need for additional funding for repairs and upgrades. As it stands right now, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provides some $240 billion guaranteed funding for infrastructure through the end of 2009. A portion of the funds is earmarked for infrastructure rehab and repair. But is it enough and are the funds being adequately appropriated? Where is this money being spent and where is the work being done?

Programs such as the Federal Highway Administration's Highways for LIFE, part of SAFETEA-LU, provides grant money to help complete construction on bridges and roads faster while making them last longer and less costly to maintain. In one example, construction on a bridge in Maryland will be shortened from one year to just 60 days by implementing the use of prefabricated concrete as part of the bridge design.

Although SAFETEA-LU and the Highways for LIFE program are excellent sources of funding, it is easy to assess that more funding must trickle down to the individual states even faster. I just hope it doesn't take another bridge collapse for the government to realize that the bottleneck of funds is putting citizens at risk everyday.

Where is this money being spent and where is the work being done?

Tim Gregorski
Editor in Chief