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Friday, August 03, 2007

Bridge collapse highlights ageing infrastructure

Bridge collapse highlights ageing infrastructure
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 2 2007 08:30 | Last updated: August 2 2007 20:45

Wednesday’s deadly collapse of a busy road bridge over the Mississippi river in Minneapolis has focused attention on the state of ageing US transportation infrastructure.

At least four people were killed and as many as 30 people were missing after the eight-lane bridge disintegrated during the evening rush hour.

Police divers on Thursday were searching for victims in vehicles that fell up to 60ft into the Mississippi, many of them crushed beneath fallen concrete. A school bus carrying 50 children narrowly escaped the disaster, having crossed the bridge seconds before its collapse.

The White House acknowledged that an inspection of the bridge two years ago had found structural deficiencies but said there had been no indication of immediate danger.

The disaster appeared certain to intensify calls for increased investment in US transportation infrastructure as it comes under strain from rising levels of traffic.

Until this week, attention had been focused mostly on the capacity shortages that have caused freight bottlenecks on US roads, railways and docks over recent years.

But the Minneapolis bridge collapse has shifted the spotlight to the public safety implications of failures in transportation infrastructure. Speaking at a conference on infrastructure finance on Thursday, Jeffrey Shane, US undersecretary of transportation, said the country was facing “an intolerable decline in [transportation] system performance in the form of travel delays and unreliability”.

“Deteriorating performance in the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure is acute and widespread, and it affects both passenger travel and freight movement,” he said, without mentioning the bridge collapse.

Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University in Chicago, said the disaster highlighted the need for greater inspection of public infrastructure. But the rarity of such events indicated that structural weaknesses were not widespread, he added.

“This is big news because bridges do not collapse very often in the US or other developed countries,” said Mr Schofer.“Our infrastructure is in pretty good shape.”

An inspection in 2005 gave the 40-year-old bridge a rating of 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability – a score that indicated a possible need for replacement.


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