On Tuesday, the local chapter of the American Society of Engineers gave Washington bridges a gentleman’s C-.
So much for grade inflation and gentlemen.
Thursday’s collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River was a disaster that could have become a tragedy. The dislocation, economic and otherwise, will last for months.
The accident is a galvanizing event that changes the dynamic in Olympia. Priority one is passing a comprehensive transportation package that takes care of existing public assets and finishes what we’ve started. It must happen in 2013.
“Whenever politicians make decisions about spending, shiny new projects always seem to trump the old, taking-care-of-business kind of work,” former Washington DOT Secretary Doug MacDonald wrote in Crosscut earlier this month.
Policymakers understand this intuitively, but it seems an intangible, a boring, have-to-eventually-maybe. You can’t prove a negative until the negative happens. And it just happened in Skagit.
A diverse cross-section from the Washington State Labor Council to the business-centric Washington Roundtable, to Economic Alliance Snohomish County underscore the centrality of preserving what we have. Maintenance and operation, however unsexy, are foundational.
In its benchmarks for a better Washington, the Roundtable notes that more than a fifth of Washington bridges are “functionally obsolete.” As The Herald’s Diana Hefley and Bill Sheets report, 14 Snohomish County bridges are structurally deficient under National Bridge Inspection Standards. (Driving while holding your breath isn’t a solution.)
“There are lots of details we don’t know about the bridge collapse, but incidents like this highlight the need for safe, strong infrastructure,” said Rep. Marko Liias, co-vice chair of the House Transportation Committee. “The revenue package in the Legislature now would fund an additional $911 million in ongoing preservation and maintenance work, in addition to contributing to the replacement of deficient bridges over Lake Washington and the Columbia River.”
Sensible conservatives such as Sens. Kirk Pearson and Barbara Bailey are encouraged to heed the transpo call. For Bailey, access has been curbed to Whidbey Island and other parts of her district. Over the summer and fall, the economic fallout could be severe.
“Debates about ‘how’ to raise revenue are relevant. But raise revenue we must if we are to bring our infrastructure up to 21st century standards to sustain a robust Washington economy and safe roads to travel on,” said Rep. Luis Moscoso, who, like Liias, is a co-vice chair of the transportation committee.
Moscoso is right. Thursday’s catastrophe was the canary in the river, a harbinger of headaches to come. Lawmakers need to do the responsible thing and pass a transportation package pronto.