Friday, August 03, 2007

Bridging the gap

Some pretty terrifying pictures coming out of Minnesota over the last couple of days, real "there but for the grace of God go I" stuff. The collapse of the I-35W bridge into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis has so far left five confirmed dead, and more fatalities are likely to be discovered as cars continue to be pulled from the water. Upon watching the news last night, one witness made a comment that went something like "A bridge in America shouldn't just... fall." Unfortunately they can, and do. I'm no civil engineer, but I do know that most of the bridges (and indeed road infrastructure) in North America is at least half a century old and is crumbling fast. They're doing so at a faster speed than much older bridges in Britain partly due to harsher climate conditions and partly due to a lack of funding in outlying areas to carry out major repair work. Last year in Montreal, where I'm from, a concrete overpass collapsed, crushing to death five people in cars underneath. A civil-engineer friend of mine tells me that the city has a kind of top-10 blacklist of other bridges and overpasses that are also in need of urgent repair, but - surprise surprise - the list is kept secret from the public in order to avoid everybody freaking out. It's actually more likely to take 30 years before all the repair work is staggered and carried out. In the meantime, when I visit home, a growing number of bridges have got wire netting strung up underneath. To catch the big bits? It doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Still, it's just one small part of a vast continent, and there are bound to be worse examples out there.


At August 26, 2007 6:55 am, Blogger Graeme said...

The Green Line is now closed between Lionel Groulx and Berri UQAM for an indefinite period of time after a serious fissure was found in the Metro a couple of days ago.

I'm not surprised that there's a blacklist of structures that urgently need repairs. The autoroutes look really bad--I recently saw a pedestrian overpass where a lot of the concrete had crumbled off the bottom of it and the rebar was exposed and corroding. A structure like that can't have that long left and it should either be repaired or torn down before it collapses.


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