Saturday, May 25, 2013

Safe Bridges Held Hostage to Light Rail

Since the collapse of the I-5 Bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, Washington, the rhetoric has grown increasingly heated over decades of deterioration of our highways and bridges. We all know hundreds, if not thousands of bridges across America have been allowed to fall into disrepair, jeopardizing the safety of our families as we commute back and forth.

With spending trillions of dollars each and every year, why have our roadways become tantamount to death traps for commuters? With well paid engineers, expensive equipment owned by states and state employed crews, as well as private companies fully capable of repairing, rebuilding or even replacing aging bridges, what possible excuse is there for our bridges to be in such poor condition?

Even with that, bridge collapses are rare. After the deadly Minneapolis Bridge collapse back in 2007, ABC ran a story Deadly Bridge Collapses Through the Decades listing such collapses at that time. But still, as rare as they may be, given the known condition of so many bridges, we are tempting fate with letting them continue in such condition.

As the ABC article shows, most are due to uncontrollable outside factors, fuel truck fire weakening steel, struck by out of control ships and as we now know on the Skagit Bridge, over-sized loads striking critical structural beams.

Part of the rhetoric now heard is those bridges should be designed to withstand such impact, as if we humans can foresee every occurrence of the future. We may as well call on engineers to design airplanes so they don’t crash or our automobiles to not run into each other.

There is only so much one can do to prevent tragedy and even though we cannot predict such events as a ship or truck impacting critical components on our bridges, we can do our best to maintain such bridges so they don’t just collapse unexpectedly as happened in Minneapolis in 2007.

With all of the money taken from taxpayers and borrowed from corporations and foreign countries like China, giving us some $17 Trillion in National Debt, the highest Debt of any country on the planet, how is it we don’t have safer bridges? Just what stops our bridges from being repaired or replaced as need be?

While it may not be true of every bridge in the country, we need look no further than the Columbia River Crossing light rail project for a good indication of why.

While Democrats like Washington State Rep. Jim McDermott latch onto the Skagit Bridge collapse to engage in partisan finger pointing, left out of the discussion is word of Democrats like Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber of, “no light rail, no bridge” in replacing the aging I-5 bridge between Washington State and Oregon.

The light rail issue has been a thorn in the sides of people for many years, Clark County Washington voting it down directly in 1995 and Oregon devising a sneaky way to force it into Clark County against voters’ wishes by attaching it to a replacement bridge across the Columbia River as explained in the article, The $2.5 Billion Bribe from the Willamette Week.

What happened to safety, easing congestion or improving freight mobility? Since those are the reasons given for replacing the spans, how does light rail fit in? How does a simple $800 Million bridge project turn into an excess of $5 Billion to accommodate extending light rail that taxpayers repeatedly rejected?

Also not being discussed is that in order to build a bridge along the I-5 corridor that will accommodate light rail, the bridge must decrease river traffic clearance, light rail unable to climb steeper grades that a bridge with proper clearance would have.

If you look back to the ABC article above you will see, “a 500-foot section of a bridge spanning the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls, Okla., collapsed after a barge ran into one of its supports,” “Texas’ Queen Isabella Causeway gave way after a string of barges driven off course by currents crashed into a bridge support” and “the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida collapsed after a freighter struck it during a storm.”

Three of the worst collapses in America were caused by impacts from waterborne craft.

And proponents of the CRC want to force us to accept a bridge with the lowest clearance for river traffic for 190 miles, knowing how heavily the Columbia River is used for shipping barges and more downriver?

Looking at the graphic below, supplied by the CRC, light rail will be confined in an enclosed second tier hung beneath the main roadway, causing the inadequate river traffic clearance problem, leaving it more susceptible to collision with waterborne craft.

Every year across America, hundreds of billions of dollars are diverted from transportation budgets to construct light rail lines. Sometimes with voter approval and often times with voters being ignored. Hundreds of millions of dollars are also diverted every year to maintain and operate light rail lines across the land.

That is hundreds of billions of precious tax dollars diverted away from bridge repairs and maintenance, even replacement of much needed unsafe bridges to light rail that many communities cannot even afford, causing taxes on middle class citizens to greatly increase.

Money is taken away from reliable, flexible buses to be spent keeping inflexible, unreliable light rail cars going.

In the link above, Rep. McDermott blames Republicans, ignoring that it has been his party primarily diverting those hundreds of billions of tax dollars to light rail programs while our bridges languish.

And his answer? “Lawmakers can find extra money to pay for transportation projects by raising the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax.”

We hear the same answer from Washington Governor Jay Inslee who also wants to raise the states gas tax, both ignoring, or not caring about the burden they are placing on struggling middle class families currently paying $4 a gallon for gas to be able not drive to work or drive to job interviews.

Neither gives any consideration to backing away from expensive, bloated light rail projects and using what tax dollars we have to repair or replace so many bridges.

No, they fall right in line with Oregon Governor Kitzhaber in holding bridges hostage to light rail projects with his “no light rail, no bridge.”

While many have latched onto the Skagit Bridge collapse to berate conservatives for wanting to allow the middle class to retain a little more of their paychecks, do not let yourselves be fooled. The money to repair these bridges has been there all along, but has been and is still being squandered on expensive and unnecessary light rail projects.

Obviously, the people’s safety when crossing bridges is not as important as forcing communities to accept light rail across America, especially here in Clark County Washington with the Columbia River Crossing light rail project.

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