Creek Bridge on the Thruway collapsed
because of flooding near Ft. Hunter (just
west of Schenectady), dropping five vehicles into the torrent and killing 10 people.
In August of 2011 the Blenheim Bridge
collapsed during Hurricane Irene; it was
one of the oldest and longest covered
bridges in the nation. But otherwise, New
York has done a pretty good job of maintaining its many bridges. Other states
cannot say the same.
Part Two: Infrastructure
Risk Management Series
When traveling by car between states it becomes clear almost immediately which of those states invest heavily in their roads and which spend the tax dollars in some
other way. When one goes “bumpity bang” down a state highway
or even an interstate and then crosses the state line to another state
where the roads are smooth, well paved and well marked, the effect
of politics becomes physically evident.
Last month this column singled out
New York as a progressive state regarding
electric power. But New York also rates
high on the Iconoclast’s quality meter
for roads and highways, as I have passed
along hundreds of miles of toll roads
(the New York State Thruway, the Grand
Island bridges); non-toll interstates; and
plain, old-fashioned local highways full
of tiny villages and towns reminiscent of
Currier & Ives.
The NYST (I-90) along with the New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and
Illinois turnpikes were grandfathered
into the 1950s Eisenhower Interstate Sys-
tem. Like most interstates built under that
program, though, these roads are now
more than 60 years old and are in con-
stant need of maintenance, widening with
added lanes, and in many cases replace-
ment. Some tunnels on the Pennsylvania
Turnpike (I-70) date to the Pennsylvania
Central Railroad built in the mid-1800s.
They’re still in use. Every interstate and
highway has hundreds of bridges—and
these are the most vulnerable risk.
Litany of Disasters
As discussed in “Bridge Disasters—
Collapse and Chaos,” (Claims Magazine,
March 2006), bridges collapse for a variety of reasons. Considering the number
of bridges on the nation’s highways and
interstates, it is a miracle that more catastrophes have not occurred. Some states
seem to have more than their share of
losses. On Oct. 27, 2009, two tension rods
on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
gave way, injuring one person. And the
same bridge was badly damaged in the
Oct. 17, 1989 earthquake when one of the
upper spans collapsed to the lower span,
killing one person, while on the Oakland
Freeway 42 people were killed by the collapse of the upper span of the dual-span
highway, which crushed cars beneath it.
Many of the bridge collapses have been
the result of a natural event such as flooding or earthquake, but an equal number
have been the result of heavy trucks or
tanker accidents and poor maintenance.
According to the U.S. Department
of Transportation there are more than
500,000 tractor-trailer (18-wheelers) accidents on the nation’s highways and
interstates annually. Statistics reported
by the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety show that someone is killed or injured in a truck-related accident about
every 16 minutes, with little fluctuation
from around 5,000 vehicle fatalities annually during the last decade. As trucking
is a $600+ billion industry, where time is
crucial, the impact of trucks on highways
will not soon abate. Look at every multi-vehicle fatal wreck—almost without exception a large truck will be involved.