BlueGreen Alliance

Good Jobs, Clean Environment, Green Economy

Posts About Transportation

The following blog is from Zoe Lipman, the BlueGreen Alliance’s Senior Policy Advisor. 

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resource Board (CARB) jointly released their highly anticipated draft Technical Assessment Report (TAR). The TAR is the first step in the agencies’ “Midterm Evaluation” of landmark fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for passenger cars and trucks.

The TAR doesn’t make recommendations, but its analysis provides a basis to assess the cost and technical viability of meeting the final year requirements of the fuel economy standards—set to roughly double vehicles’ fuel economy from 2012 levels by 2025. But the review also naturally spurs broader consideration of the standards as a whole.

Whether we’re looking at the data in the TAR or the transformation underway in the auto sector today, it is clear these standards are working. Under these standards, the industry is on track to achieve historic cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while providing consumers with major savings at the pump, redefining environmentally-friendly vehicles, and aiding the revival of U.S. manufacturing and job growth. The TAR is over 1,000 pages long, so it will take some time to review in detail, but the report also demonstrates the technical rigor, collaborative process, and serious engagement of stakeholders that has characterized the Administration’s multi-year process of developing and implementing these standards. 

In short, the standards provide one of our best examples of how sound policymaking can effectively combat climate change.

In 2007, Congress broke a decades-long stalemate on fuel economy with a bipartisan deal that called for new attribute-based vehicle standards together with policies to encourage manufacture of the next generation of vehicle technology in America. Unlike older standards that made improving fuel economy all about innovation in small cars or adopting specific technologies, this new generation of standards requires that steady fuel economy improvements take place across every vehicle size or “footprint.”  This makes today’s standards both more flexible and more effective at reducing fuel use. 

Because every type of vehicle must improve, consumers see big fuel savings no matter what kind of vehicle they need. And while average fuel economy across the fleet may vary as the market shifts, deep fuel economy and GHG savings are retained, regardless of whether consumers choose to buy more cars or more SUVs and trucks. For example, the popular Ford F-150 pickup truck achieves 21 percent better fuel economy today than the same vehicle did in 2010.Thanks to the standards, this means that the F-150s sold in 2015 alone will save 25 million barrels of oil and cut 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) over their lifetimes on the road.

But improvements across all vehicles aren’t just good for consumers and the environment. They also mean broader growth in innovation, investment, and jobs across the whole automotive supply chain. 

The TAR describes the progress of technology deployment analytically, and here’s what it looks like in practice.

Ford holds over 275 patents on the fuel efficient engine that powers the F150 today, and it is investing and hiring again in its Cleveland engine plant to build the 2017 model. The truck uses fuel saving electric-power steering developed by a company that— with over 5,000 employees—is now the largest employer in Saginaw, Michigan. Innovative aluminum and aluminum-joining technology comes from growing factories in Tennessee, Iowa, and several other states. In Cleveland, Ohio, a hundred year-old integrated steel mill speeded its product development cycle to create a wide range of innovative advanced steels for the automotive market. Idled in 2008, the plant is now operating at full capacity with a union-represented workforce of 1900 and is one the most productive steel mills in the world.

Of course, this is not just a story about Ford or about trucks. If you prefer a Chevy pickup, you can choose an innovative diesel engine built in Ohio that gets car-like fuel economy, or a V8 355-horsepower truck that boosts its fuel economy and performance with electric assist technology drawn from the company’s innovative electric cars.

This is what it looks like to rebuild America’s manufacturing economy and to combat climate change— and we’re doing it today. 

Overall, implementation of the first five years of the standards has been simultaneous with dramatic recovery of the industry, fueled by record sales of fuel efficient vehicles of all types. Since 2009, the U.S. auto industry has added nearly 700,000 jobs in manufacturing and at dealerships, and has helped power the first period of sustained U.S. manufacturing job growth since 1999. Studies underscore that job growth in the industry depends not only on the overall recovery, but also on investment in innovative and additional technology driven by the standards, and on policies that drove reinvestment to manufacture advanced vehicle technology in the United States. 

America’s manufacturing companies and workers are demonstrating America can lead in both inventing and building the next generation of clean technology, while rebuilding good jobs. When sound environmental and economic policies work together, consumers, the climate, and the economy win.

This is a trajectory America needs to continue. 

Photo Credit: Ford Motor Co.

Posted In: Transportation

Congress acts. Legislators—and stakeholders— come together to start repairing America.

By Zoe Lipman, Senior Policy Advisor at the BlueGreen Alliance.

Diagram from Denver Regional Transportation District shows where parts came from for their RTD Rail System.

 

On Thursday the U.S. House and Senate passed a 5-year $305 Billion transportation bill, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (or “FAST’” Act), and on Friday the President signed it. After more than a decade of short-term extensions that hobbled desperately needed forward-looking investment, legislators came together to agree on a long-term bill that makes possible the city, state, multi-state, multi-modal investments on which the health of the economy depends.

Kudos to the lawmakers who put American communities, workers and businesses ahead of partisan grandstanding, to the cities and states who led by example over the past decade, and to the many transportation advocates (including a number of the BlueGreen Alliances’s labor and environmental partners) who sweated the details that go into crafting (and negotiating) a policy agreement.

Several of our partners and key transportation advocates have more detailed overviews of the bill and lay out a variety of strengths and weaknesses (See here what the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), NRDCTransportation for America, and Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, (TTD) had to say, amongst others). But several features jump out as key steps down the path of repairing America’s infrastructure and economy:

The bill jumpstarts critical infrastructure investment. 

Many desperately needed transportation projects are huge, and there is a huge need for transportation projects in communities across the country. The five-year agreement (and the signal sent by the fact that Congress managed to achieve this agreement) is critical to provide the investment certainty necessary for the large, long-term projects now stuck on drawing boards. The bill also brings passenger rail (Amtrak) into the surface transportation bill for the first time, and makes new commitments to upgrading bus systems.

The bill includes important procurement and financing measures that bring improved infrastructure and equipment to more communities more cost-effectively. 

Our public dollars shouldn’t just deliver bridges and subway cars—they should also deliver on quality jobs, public safety, and local economic development. 

Notably, the bill further assists communities across states to bundle their projects together into larger procurements. This helps cities take advantage of economies of scale in planning and procurement and it helps small and rural communities access transit equipment they might never otherwise be able to afford. Sustained investment, scale, and certainty are equally critical for American manufacturing companies looking to invest to supply advanced transportation technologies in the US and compete globally. Thousands of companies and tens of thousands of jobs depend on our investments in transportation infrastructure. (The BlueGreen Alliance’s and Environmental Law & Policy Center’s (ELPC) report on vehicle, component and materials manufacturing in the passenger and transit rail sector is here). On the financing front, the bill expands eligibility (but reduces funding, unfortunately) for the extremely popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program that leverages public and private funds for projects of regional or national significance. It extends the TIFIA model to smaller projects, engages state infrastructure banks, and facilitates metropolitan projects through new “regional infrastructure accelerators”.

The bill takes steps to keep our investments in infrastructure on the high road

Our public dollars shouldn’t just deliver bridges and subway cars—they should also deliver on quality jobs, public safety, and local economic development. Sound labor and environmental standards and use of domestic materials and components can help ensure the best safety, economic and environmental outcomes from these projects. The bill underscores a long-standing commitment to domestic content in our public infrastructure and helps make sure manufacturers get credit for use of domestic iron and steel. The bill helps ensure the quality of public-private partnerships, and makes important commitments to public and operator safety. Transportation systems and technology are changing rapidly, and while the bill does include a new $60 million advanced technology deployment fund, it could go further to spur innovative planning and position America’s communities to take advantage of emerging transportation technologies. Some also fault the bill for failing to adopt improved performance measurement, which means that getting the best value from these projects will depend on leadership from transportation agencies and continued community engagement in implementation.

So what’s next?

At the end of the bill are a number of provisions that are almost completely unrelated to surface transportation, but they’re not unrelated to the broader task of repairing America. Several address improving efficiency and affordability of multi-family housing and underscore the major opportunity to make gains on energy, jobs, and quality of life through improvements to the building sector. Another provision will plan to establish a Strategic Transformer Reserve highlighting a shortage of critical components to our electric grid, and underscoring the importance of a new generation of investment in a cleaner, more secure and reliable energy system. What we’ve started in transportation we need to continue with respect to our electric infrastructure, our methane distribution pipelines, our broadband systems and many more.

Yes, the bill may be just a down payment on the many urgent investments needed to fully modernize the foundations of the U.S. economy, but it’s an important step down that path. We may not be firing on all cylinders quite yet—and until we fix the Hudson River Rail tunnel it’s not quite a light at the end of the tunnel—but we are finally on the right track.

Posted In: Transportation, Amalgamated Transit Union

Congress has now passed 33 short-term extensions of federal highway and transit funding over the past six years. That’s inexcusable. Now federal transportation funding is set to run out in a matter of days and the House and Senate are nowhere close to agreement on how to end the gridlock. Once again, we are back in the same position we were in barely two months ago.

Congress has now passed 33 short-term extensions of federal highway and transit funding over the past six years.

The July 31 deadline to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from running out—federal funding to maintain and improve the country’s highways, bridges, transit systems and more—looms large. Recent extensions have lasted anywhere from a few months to a year. The problem with this lies in the fact that infrastructure investments require lead-time for planning and implementation.

As long as Congress continues the cycle of only patching the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund every six months or so, we’re stunting America’s growth—preventing the long-term investments that could create good, family-sustaining jobs, reduce traffic jams that worsen carbon pollution, and ensure a strong economy for our communities and our families.

On the other hand, we could be doing more to grow good, family-sustaining jobs in the transportation industry. These types of investments are a win-win for the environment and the economy.

Modern transit and passenger rail systems are major generators of jobs and economic growth—especially manufacturing jobs—not just in the metropolitan areas they serve, but also in the towns and cities across the country where they are made. Transit and rail system investments are far-reaching economically, but they also benefit our environment.

A joint report from the Environment Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and the BlueGreen Alliance illustrates the true size of the U.S. transit and passenger rail manufacturing footprint, showing where these jobs are being sustained by state and federal investments in rail and transit.

The report found more than 750 companies in at least 39 states manufacture components for transit and passenger rail today.   Of those companies, 212 of them in 32 states manufacture the passenger rail cars and locomotives themselves or major components and systems.

We rely on our nation’s transportation infrastructure on a daily basis—to get to school, to get to work, to compete in the global economy, and for much more. That’s why it’s time to make the investments that can create economic certainty, steady job creation and consistent environmental benefits.

Urge Congress to pass a long-term fix that will ensure we make the needed investments in transit, roads, bridges, and other transportation essentials before time runs out. Tweet at Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Boehner and tell them we’re tired of waiting. We need long term transportation investments that will create jobs and economic growth now.

 

Posted In: Transportation

Congressional gridlock will spell out real traffic headaches for commuters unless Congress approves federal funding for the Highway Trust Fund before it officially runs out September 30. Luckily, this hard deadline and a looming August recess where lawmakers will leave DC and will have to defend what they’re doing to solve transportation problems in their home districts, has finally motivated some lawmakers to go for broke to prevent the trust fund from running out.

The Short-Term Fix

Senator Wyden from Oregon has emerged as a leader on those efforts, having brokered an agreement with Republicans on a plan that would provide almost $11 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund—which is enough to keep it up and running until May 2015. Last night showed signs of progress as the House of Representatives approved a measure that funds the Highway Trust Fund for one year, similar to the agreement Senator Wyden hammered out. Now the measure awaits Senate action.  

Further bolstering support for a short-term fix, the White House has signaled it would back a similar measure. However, President Obama and other administration officials haven’t lost sight of the long-view priorities of the Grow AMERICA agenda which the president spoke about in a Washington, DC event recently.

 "Congress should act now, not just to make the repairs desperately needed, but to build the modern infrastructure essential to create and sustain jobs and to build a stronger, more competitive economic future," said Kim Glas, Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance.

BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Kim Glas attended the event and said, “The state of our nation’s infrastructure not only impacts our economy, but our environment suffers as well. Congress should act now, not just to make the repairs desperately needed, but to build the modern infrastructure essential to create and sustain jobs and to build a stronger, more competitive economic future. The GROW AMERICA Act will help us accomplish just that.”

A Problem That Isn’t Going Away

We can and must do better than another short term fix though. Americans need and deserve a long-term plan that provides adequate funding, sets necessary policy, and gives states time to set priorities and plan projects. America’s roads and transit systems each earned a “D” grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Our nation’s bridges—which have an average age of 42 years old and nearly 65,000 of which are closed or have load restrictions due to age—didn’t fare much better, earning only a “C+” grade.

Now that the House has passed an extension, it’s the Senate’s move. Failing to act on a short-term fix to rescue the Trust fund puts 700,000 jobs at risk immediately—which would be like Congress firing everyone in Wyoming, Washington, D.C., or Vermont.  But our long-term job growth depends on finishing the job.

We still believe Congress can come through on a plan to save the Highway Trust Funding from going bankrupt. But, more than that, we know it’s time for Congress to work together to pass a long-term, fully funded transportation bill that will fix the problems caused by decades of neglect and that will repair and modernize our infrastructure to support a prosperous 21st century economy.

Posted In: Transportation, Infrastructure

This crosspost is from Callum Beals, an editorial intern at Sierra. You can find the original here

April 10, 2014

Chinatown station on the LA Metro Gold LineThe American Public Transportation Association is partying like it's 1956. That's because Americans took 10.65 billion trips on public transit systems in 2013 -- numbers not seen since the 1950s. In its annual ridership report, APTA stated that more Americans were using trains, buses, and subways as an alternative to commuting to work by car.

The 2013 numbers narrowly surpassed the post-1950s high of 10.59 billion in 2008, when gas prices ballooned. According to APTA, what makes the 2013 numbers so exciting is that gas prices are lower now than they were in 2008.

Public transit powerhouse New York City saw a 4.2% heavy rail ridership increase. More surprisingly, Los Angeles posted a 4.8% heavy rail increase coupled with a 6% light rail increase for 2013.

The LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is betting big on public transit as the future of the area. "It has to be," said Marc Littman, the LA Metro's deputy executive officer of public relations. "Mobility is the linchpin of the economy."

By the end of 2014, the LA Metro will have started construction on multiple new heavy and light rail projects that will become operational over the next decade. "Voters in LA are so fed up with traffic that in 2008 they voted to tax themselves three times over," said Littman. The taxes he is referring to are all part of Measure R, a 2008 county ballot that will award around $40 billion of taxpayer money to traffic relief and transportation upgrades over the next 30 years.

While traffic reduction was undoubtedly at the forefront of voters' minds, so too was an increasing environmental consciousness. "You can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 20 pounds of COper day," says Littman. "We've tapped into people who are fed up with traffic as well as those that are environmentally conscious."

This green rider is exactly who APTA believes is behind 2013's surge in public transportation ridership. In an interview with the Associated Press, APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy proclaimed, "People are making a fundamental shift to having options for getting around. This is a long term trend. This isn't just a blip."

Quantifying the affect of environmentalism on increased public transit ridership is difficult, but the fact that 2013's levels resemble those of the 1950s can't be ignored. With the rise of the automobile and suburbia, public transit has long been a secondary option for commuters.

Littman believes that Americans, especially Los Angelenos, want a return to a sprawling public transit infrastructure. "In Los Angeles, there were more than 1000 miles of track 100 years ago, and people want it back. It's kind of like that baseball movie [Field of Dreams]. If you build it, they will come."

To get involved with local public transit projects, visit publictransportation.org

--Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Merkuri2

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz, where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

Posted In: Infrastructure, Transportation, Sierra Club

Mike RobinsonThe following blog was originally posted on GM's Fast Lane blog. Read more about the workshop Mike Robinson took part in here.

Mike Robinson refers to himself as “fanatically pragmatic.”

During a panel at the annual Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference in Washington D.C., our vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs said GM looks at sustainability as a mainstream, long-term business strategy where decisions are driven by how to best take care of customers, employees and shareholders.

And since we’re running a business, these decisions need to make sense from a financial, people and environment perspective.

Mike was joined on his panel by representatives from International Paper, Alcoa and UPS to talk about sustainability and the bottom line.

The next wave of young professionals will come with a built-in sense of sustainability, as the generation has grown up with recycle bins at the curb.

When asked what big companies are looking for in new professionals, Mike said, “We look at it from the opposite perspective: Are we doing the best we can to attract the next generation of sustainability-oriented millennials? Because that’s what we stand for.”

On whether the auto industry itself is sustainable, he added that GM is looking at long-term demographics. With the middle class expected to double in size and consumers wanting more goods, societies will demand access.

This will require a level of integration among government and producers that doesn’t exist today, and it may mean less vehicles in some spaces and different vehicles in others. Necessity is the mother of invention, he said, and the industry in its current form is not sustainable.

Meanwhile, the company continues to apply efficiency fundamentals to not only its products, but also to how they are made. Mike discussed dedication to a clean economy through responsible manufacturing around the world.

He stated, “We do things we aren’t required to do. Seventy percent of our sales are outside the U.S., from plants in countries without regulation. We run those plants like they were in the U.S. You need to look long-term how to be a responsible corporate citizen.”

Posted In: Auto, Transportation

The following blog was originally posted on the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference's Meeting Point blog.

We use them every day, but our roads, bridges, and transit systems are not ready for the impacts of climate change.

More than just an inconvenience, the decaying state of America’s transportation network is an environmental and economic problem. The time we spending weaving through detours and idling in gridlock means wasted gas and extra carbon emissions. A lack of access to transit means a less mobile society. And, without dependable transportation options, businesses cannot transport their goods or personnel from place to place or their products to consumers.

Despite that fact, America has failed to make vital investments in our transportation networks. This has left us with roads that are potholed and congested, deficient bridges that cannot be driven on by trucks due to new weight limits, and countless Americans, including those in disadvantaged populations, who cannot get to job interviews or work because of a lack of affordable and reliable transit options.

It is time America makes a serious investment to Repair our transportation systems, and we will be discussing what that means during the Transportation track at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference.

This track’s workshops include:

Getting on Track Together: Creating Pathways to Transit and Transportation Careers for Community Members
Monday, February 10, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Moving Efficiently: Improving How We Transport Goods in America
Monday, February 10, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

Public Transit Funds – Creating Good Jobs for Disadvantaged Populations
 Monday, February 10, 3:40 PM – 5:10 PM

"Connected” Cars Are Cleaner Cars
 Monday, February 10, 3:40 PM – 5:10 PM

Job Creation Through High Performance Rail
Tuesday, February 11, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Repair America: Infrastructure Solutions That Work Now
Tuesday, February 11, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

This blog is the eight in a series of blogs discussing the various workshop tracks that will be happening at the 2014 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference. Please check back and see the full workshop list for more information.  

Posted In: Transportation

The following blog—Zoe Lipman, a Senior Policy Advisor for the BlueGreen Alliance—was originally posted on the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Meeting Point Blog.

You may think you were just watching Seattle beat Denver interspersed with car and beer ads and no Beyoncé. In fact you were watching extremely cost-effective subliminal advertising for the transportation workshops at next week’s Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference.

Like the ad where dad saves the kid from imminent disaster over and over until the car does? Now you know you want to know more about the Internet of Things…and you can do that at the workshop on the connected vehicles on Monday, February 10th at 3:40 p.m.  How is it connected? To the driver? To other cars? To the transportation system? To the grid? And, beyond safety and entertainment, what benefits does Machine-2-Machine technology bring for the environment?

Believe in Importing from Detroit but not sure Bob Dylan had all the details? On Tuesday morning, February 11th at 10:30 a.m. get the low down on the big opportunities now to grow the high tech transportation supply chain all across the U.S.  Find out how we’re capturing the next big thing in cars, trucks, buses, trains and logistics (and also Detroit does build watches, but there’s no session on that at the Conference). Speaking of what it takes to turn innovation and investment into jobs here in the U.S., if the can-do American floor mat company got you thinking, hear more on what we’ve learned locally and federally about delivering on jobs promises on Monday morning at 10:30.

The halftime intro did some beautiful and surreal things with transportation infrastructure—now’s your chance to weigh in on how we Repair America for real by attending:

The stratospheric jump ad  is a reminder to ask those who are part of the aviation industry or work in aviation policy to contact the BlueGreen Alliance about our Aviation side event on Monday.  (And for any who don’t see the world from above on a daily basis, its worth seeing the full jump here.) 

 Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a lot more to the conference than just transportation. We’re looking at everything it takes to Repair America to Protect, Produce and Prosper from resilient cities to pipelines to building a new green, job-creating football stadium. Join us.

Posted In: Transportation

We are forced to think about our nation’s infrastructure when a big bridges collapse occurs, but many fail to notice that decrepit bridges drive up the prices on almost anything that gets to the store by truck. Transportation for America (T4A) recently released a report that shows 11 percent of all U.S. highway bridges are structurally deficient. According to the report, placing all 66,405 deficient bridges end-to-end would create one long deficient bridge stretching 1,500 miles — that is equal to the distance from Mexico to Canada across the widest part of the United States.

While a bridge with a structurally deficient rating isn’t necessarily about to collapse, in many cases it means the bridge has weakened to the point where it can no longer handle heavy loads. Lower weight restrictions cause big trucks that deliver goods to detour, making their routes longer and adding to transportation costs. That cost is usually passed along to consumers, which is reflected in many of the rising costs people are seeing at the market.

An estimated $76 billion is needed to repair deficient bridges that carry 260 million vehicles each day, yet traditional transportation funding is eroding, and the federal government’s current financial condition and fiscal outlook further complicates the issue.

Currently only 10 percent of structurally deficient bridges are eligible for repair under our nation’s largest highway program. The remaining 90 percent are left to compete with all the other pressing needs in our communities, and many states are going into their sixth or seventh year of budget troubles.

The sorry state of our nation’s infrastructure truly means dollars and cents for us all. If we do not invest in the repair of our nation’s infrastructure, it will continue to crumble, our economy will continue to stagnate, and as a nation we will be failing to meet the needs of our growing population.

Please join the 15 million members of the BlueGreen Alliance in our call to Repair America — our campaign to prepare America’s infrastructure for climate change and other challenges. It is time to take action, creating good jobs for workers, making our systems more efficient and reducing pollution, and protecting our families and communities.

Posted In: Transportation

The following post is from Eric Steen, Deputy Communications Director of the BlueGreen Alliance. 

A few years ago, back in the summer of 2007, people were stuck in rush hour traffic on the I-35W Bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Suddenly, the bridge that spanned the mighty Mississippi collapsed, plunging people and vehicles into the river below, killing 13 and injuring 145. While the collapse made national news, it really hit home for people like me that drove over the bridge several times a week and knew people that were on the bridge just minutes before it collapsed. Phone lines were jammed as people tried to get ahold of friends and loved ones they knew traveled the route. 

It made me look at the world differently.

The news of the bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Washington State brought back the same memories — and some of the same worries. The I-5 collapse was caused when an oversized truck hit the structure, causing an entire span of the bridge to collapse and sending vehicles into the waters below. Three people were injured by their fall into the Skagit River. Fortunately, all of them are fine. 

After the I-35W Bridge, I started paying attention to the condition of bridges. When I think back on it, there were a lot of bridges I shouldn’t have driven my bike over, much less my car. I even sometimes rolled my window down when crossing over bridges in the Minneapolis area. Now, honestly, having my window down likely would have done nothing in the event of a bridge collapse (I’m a terrible swimmer and there’s that whole impact thing), but at least it made me feel better about driving over a bridge with rust holes the size of me in them.

Thankfully, the worst ones have been or are currently in the process of being rebuilt. This is in large part due to the Minnesota Legislature passing a transportation bill that focused on bridge safety in the wake of the I-35W Bridge collapse and the also influx of federal funding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act brought to the table after 2009. 

After the I-35W collapse, I had to ask myself a few fundamental questions. Why should people in what many of us consider to be the greatest country ever in the history of the world have to worry that the infrastructure they use ever day is safe for them to use? Why were there so many bridges, tunnels, dams, roadways, transit lines, and other vital systems that all of us use every day in such a state of disrepair? And, would the I-35W bridge collapse serve as the clarion call for action or the harbinger of more tragedy to come? 

With the collapse in Mount Vernon, Washington, I think a lot of people are asking the same questions today as I did back in 2007. 

The answers to them aren’t simple. For the most part it boils down to we’ve made progress, but we’ve got a long way yet to go. One need only look at the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card to see that progress — through state action like that in Minnesota where new revenue for transportation was raised for the first time in 20 years or through federal investments like the Recovery Act. Back in 2009, 25 percent of America’s bridges were labeled structurally deficient — meaning the bridges may be closed or restrict traffic in accordance with weight limits because of limited structural capacity — or structurally obsolete —a bridge that has older design features that means it cannot safely accommodate current traffic volumes, vehicles sizes, and weights. Today, one in nine of America’s bridges have been rated structurally deficient. That’s a big improvement, but with an average age of 42 years, we have a lot of old bridges that need repairs and replacement yet to go. 

The head of the National Transportation Safety Board says the I-5 collapse should be the wake-up call America needs to make the needed investments to make our infrastructure safe. I agree. There’s no reason I, or anyone, should have to drive over a bridge with the window down for fear of it falling down. Our parents and grandparents built us a transportation system that served them and us well. Now, it’s time we make sure that the transportation system we leave to future generations is safe, dependable, and efficient.

Posted In: Transportation
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