Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

We keep paying but nothing gets fixed

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The Aug. 15 front page article on the high cost of repairing our aging infrastructure was not a wake up call. It was surreal.

The old Interstate 35W bridge collapsed a few blocks from a brand new sports stadium costing hundreds of millions of dollars, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.

People work inside the stadium, throwing a ball around. They are paid millions annually because their employer does not have to carry the cost for their place of business.

It is fitting that the continuation of this article is on a page next to another environmental, ICC-costs-too-much, report (‘‘Green groups want new fund and no ICC”). When I earned my masters in civil engineering, bridge engineering, I was interviewed for a job designing the ICC. That was in 1968. Maryland taxpayers have paid, in gas tax, enough to build hundreds of miles of nonexistent interstate highways, throughout the state, since then. Had the ICC been built in a timely manner, it would have cost perhaps $30 million, not billions.

When I graduated, the American Society of Civil Engineers was issuing reports on lethally defective infrastructure, e.g. the New Orleans levees. They still report, as a category 4 hurricane was targeting the Gulf.

We taxpayers paid a king’s fortune, in the 1990s, to strengthen these levees. The money was spent; nothing was improved.

The root problem is not the funding level for infrastructure; the problem is results, i.e., highway taxes do not result in well engineered new highways.

In infrastructure, we have not gotten what we paid for, for 40 years. The article’s sole correct inference is that this cannot continue. Our water, sewer, electric power, levees, roads and bridges will simply collapse. No one is awake.

R.L. Hails Sr., P.E., Olney