October 5, 2023
After seeing the fallen Kinzua railroad viaduct (see Aug. 1 posting), my vacation continued into some of the scariest bridges and tunnels in the country. But not my beloved interstate highway system — although I could do dozens of blog posts on the need to improve that vital transportation asset. No, my journey took me into the Big Apple itself via two of the tunnels and several of the bridges. The tunnels are amazing engineering achievements and appear to the user to be well-maintained. If only the same could be said for the approaches and ramps. I’m used to Chicago and Pittsburgh, and probably have a higher scare threshold than many engineers. And it sure looked to me like a couple billion dollars would only be a start in improving the situation. Across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, the roads and bridges were not any better. Even in areas that are getting massive private investment — such as the vicinity of the Red Bull soccer arena — they are getting by on the leftovers of our forebears. And while I give the developers credit for repurposing a bridge from the steel mill that once occupied the site, I can’t help but wonder where the money will come from to fix the rest of the overpasses. Progress is being made; I waited for thirty minutes during the trip back to my hotel after the match because of work under one of the I-280 overpasses. Locals can expect a year’s worth of traffic jams by the look of the equipment marshalling yard next to the site. Considering that Kinzua’s world record viaduct was constructed in less than three months using 1870s equipment, shouldn’t we have a major effort underway to improve our ability to repair, rebuild, or replace the thousands of deficient bridges around the country? When we needed to build ships in a hurry for WWII, new technology was employed to cut the construction time. How much longer can we ignore the problem? Why not use the infrastructure to usher in a new burst of American ingenuity?