Maintenance and Replacement

As with the De la Concorde overpass collapse here in Quebec last September, everyone in the US is now questioning the safety of bridges and overpasses. I believe this concern is a good thing. It should not be fear and panic, but concern.

A large number of our more heavily used bridges and overpasses were built during the prosperity of the 50’s and 60’s. But depending on their level of maintenance, some are starting to show their age. A point where regular maintenance and repair is required and consideration should start being given as to whether they should be replaced. To a degree this is done already. But sometimes budgets cut back on inspections or repairs and only the more serious problems are addressed. With so many overpasses reaching this age around the same time, more time and money should be spent towards their upkeep.

I see it as being similar to owning a car. When you buy the car you have a big upfront cost, but the cost of maintenance is very low. But after about five or six years the cost of maintenance starts rising fairly quickly as you have to replace different parts. Then at some point you have to replace the car. One difference is that bridges can sometimes be forgotten. They seem like they can stand forever. Fortunately (to my knowledge) most juridictions have an inspection program in place to check on them. But I think sometimes they may not be willing to keep it in perfect working order. It’s like changing the oil in your car. You try to save money so you change it every 6000 miles instead of every 3000 miles. The car still runs and will for quite a while, but it may not run at it’s best.

And this is the best way to explain the term “structurally deficient” that has been prevalent the last couple days. The bridge was strong enough and stable enough, but there were some elements that could be repaired in order to restore the structure to it’s original strength and stability.

My feeling is that maintenance budgets should be raised. More maintenance should be done and more replacements done. And the money should come from gas taxes. Yes, we already pay quite a bit for gas. But I think we’ve been spoiled paying too little for too long. In addition to paying for the gasoline, a good portion of the price should go toward the roads and bridges used when you use the gas. And the money for each gas station will go toward road improvement in the immediate area since you’re likely using those roads.

And is an increase in the price of gas a bad thing? I love driving, but any incentive to keep all of us from unnecessarily using their cars is a good thing.

But there is yet another aspect to all of this. It has been estimated that the worlds supply of gas could run out in ten years. This is based on what oil reserves we know exist and our current rate of consumption. So is vehicular bridge maintenance actually a moot point. I guess it depends on what, if anything, replaces gas powered vehicles.

I just hope this isn’t forgotten like New Orleans or the Northeast Blackout a few years ago. To Quebec’s credit, the concern about the bridges is still present almost a year after the incident.


~ by Frank on August 3, 2007.

2 Responses to “Maintenance and Replacement”

  1. Good Post Frank,,, I wrote a post about our collapsing infrastructures as well, today.

  2. Thanks, Gino. I still kinda wonder if the vehicle that replaces the gas-powered car will use this same infrastructure.

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