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Why don't we fix our crumbling bridges?

Crews survey the scene of a bridge collapse on Interstate 5 on May 23, 2013 near Mt. Vernon, Wash.

The most famous bridge in the country today lies about 60 miles north of Seattle.

It also lies partly in the water after last night's collapse.

The bridge over the Skagit River had been declared "functionally obsolete", which basically means old but not necessarily in bad enough shape to shut down. It's not alone. It's one of tens of thousands of bridges in this country that need repairs we're just not doing.

But why not? What would it take to get federal and state governments to start putting money into repairing our infrastructure? 

Robert Meyer, co-director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says in many cases it's just a matter of time before accidents like this happen. 

"We love to build bridges but we don't like to maintain them. And I think a lot of it has a political origin. We have an expression, the acronym is N.I.M.T.O.O, 'Not In My Term of Office,' and I think that's often the way that politicians think about it," Meyer said. 

"There's a tendency to think that the legislators out there are somehow different from you and me making our day-to-day decisions, but a lot of the people who postpone funding for bridge repair are the same people who drive around with under-inflated tires or don't repair their roofs." 

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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Kia,
I agree with EDDISC, was this to get sympathy for spending in "crumbling infrastructure" the cry of a certain politicans? Next we will hear about the collapse of the interstate deck from two trains colliding in St. Louis as being due to crumbling infrastructure. If pols were serious about getting the job done, they could hire China for a fraction of the cost you quoted to fix our "infrastructure" using bloated fee, red tape, and high wages. But then I might be accused of excessiveness to gain attention holding to the wasteful way we spend on infrastructure. I use to work for the highway department and have seen it first hand.

The commenter is correct that the person fished out of the river reported that a truck hit the bridge before it collapsed. However, the commenter is mistaken in that truck collisions with bridges will necessarily cause bridge collapses. Engineers will design to protect a WELL MAINTAINED bridge from catastrophic failure from such an event. Trucks hitting a poorly maintained bridge probably is a very different matter but the investigation will determine the cause. But the cause of this collapse begs the question.

We have come to expect that the common response in such situations is to sigh, report on heroic efforts and then do nothing. What is absurd is that the huge number reported by Mr. Meyer needed for infrastructure repairs - $2.5 trillion - is very close to the amount of cash currently sitting in corporate bank accounts. We are rich enough to get the job done, but those that have must do more. Cash won't do you much good if this bridge collapse becomes a metaphor for the economy and our collective future.

We are in a national liquidity trap. FDR built government programs that loosened the hands holding tight to cash and the economy rebounded, until FDR blinked in 1937 and cut back. WWII spending floated a generation which begat the baby boomers. I just hope we can act as resolutely as America's "Greatest Generation" (so named by Brokaw).

entropyman, Yep engineers are suppose to... They cut the fire protection on the twin towers from the code 3 hours to 1 hour also, in order to get more office space. Buildings were designed to take an airplane hit. Yep, more crumbling infrastructure. And my dad and grandfather worked through FDR's jobs program surviving on 3 days a week work on the railroad and working on farms near East St Louis. Some rebounded economy you boast about from FDR. Good thing they could work for food in those days.

Kai - shame on you! The bridge collapse made for a 'good' springboard for the 'story' - 'story' as opposed to NEWS since there was NO news here at all...; but you completely NEGLECTED TO MENTION A TRUCK HAD STRUCK THE BRIDGE!!!!

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