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.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...