Last Thursday, a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University. According to reports, there were multiple casualties, and police have identified four of the deceased so far. A private construction company built the bridge, and one of their workers noticed an alarming crack in its foundation — but the company certainly isn’t the only institution at fault.
Our government, state and federal, had a hand in the bridge collapse, the unnecessary deaths and the sapping of a devastated university’s spirit.
It’s clear that Florida had an especially prominent role despite its initial efforts to distance itself. According to The Miami Herald, the Florida Department of Transportation (aka FDOT) was heavily involved in “the design and construction” of the bridge and an especially important member of the design committee. As an esteemed member of the committee, FDOT selected the premier engineer, served as a consultant on every matter from concrete mixtures to selecting the premiere engineer and worked to ensure the bridge was installed safely.
But despite having a heavy hand in the project, FDOT officials labeled the bridge as FIU’s project, not theirs. Clearly, it wasn’t entirely FIU’s, considering FDOT played such a key role in the bridge’s construction and installation.
FDOT and Florida’s infrastructure problem isn’t contained in this one incident, and it certainly isn’t new. In fact, Florida is graded a C in infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Sure, that’s better than the national average of a D+, but barely so. A C grade still isn’t good considering shoddy and unregulated infrastructure can, as we saw on Thursday, prove lethal.
So although we might have crappy infrastructure, nothing’s stopping us from fixing it, right? Wrong. Though our president talks a big game about infrastructure — he’s called for a $200 billion infrastructure investment on behalf of Congress — he’s been too distracted by legal disputes with a porn star, special counsel investigations and internal chaos to pass any kind of compressive funding bill. Even further, Trump’s proposed budget for 2019, which includes funding for everything from school lunch programs to science programs, would cut existing infrastructure programs by $240 billion. He might end up cutting more than he ever intended on spending.
The priority should not be building new and exciting types of infrastructure. Instead, we should focus on long-term maintenance of preexisting and potential structures. We need to focus not on building shiny new bridges, but on funding things like ultra-secure beams for those bridges. In short, it’s about making structures, both new and old, last.
However, that means pissing some people off because maintenance means construction, and no one likes when roads are perpetually closed. Getting to work is infinitely harder than it should be.
Without money in place specifically for infrastructure, there is no oversight, and without oversight, bad bridges quickly become deadly bridges. Trains derail. Hazard waste is disposed of improperly — and so on and so forth.
Even further, and equally as relevant, houses are infinitely more likely to flood and stay flooded in natural disasters (as was the case in Puerto Rico and Houston). I think we can all agree: It’s better to prevent disaster eons ahead of time than to let it happen and clean up the mess afterward.
All and all, investing in infrastructure is a big project, but it’s worth it. It’s not enough to talk about it rosily. Talk is cheap. It’s time to fund, build, maintain and oversee.