Last Thursday a bridge collapsed, and there was barely a ripple in the news or in the conscience of America. That was mostly because nobody died when a section of the Skagit River Bridge crashed into the water below and also because many were too busy preparing for the Memorial Day weekend. Ironically 34.8 million Americans were preparing to drive more than 50 miles during the holiday weekend which means most would cross a bridge or two, and yet the news didn't seem to ruffle many feathers.
But it's not going away, at some point really soon we'll hear about this bridge and the more tragic I-35W Mississippi River Bridge that collapsed August 1, 2007 killing 13 and injuring 145.
There is no doubt big government types will point to the collapse as an example of America "crumbling" and preach a sense of urgency to rebuild immediately. There will be calls for spending and calls for taxes to pay for that spending, and along the way there will be the usual demonization of anyone that thinks accounting and accountability should also play a role in rebuilding the nation in more ways that just brick and mortar. So, the answer to the question: when a bridge falls and nobody dies does it make a sound?
Yes, it does when it's time to stir up the public through typical fear and loathing.
Sadly, those that will shout the loudest about bridges and dams will get a chunk of money and immediately spend it on everything but bridges and dams. The bait and switch has been the hallmark of the current administration although an old political practice. What's intriguing is how often the tax and spend crowd uses the same scare tactics. But, next time we hear this is why we need more stimulus the reply should be what happened to the first batch of stimulus that was to cure infrastructure problems with a slew of shovel-ready projects.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act took $840.0 billion and showered funds all over the place through tax policy and spending, grants and loans.
It was sold as a job creator - it wasn't!
It was sold as a bridge and dam fixer - it wasn't!
It was sold as an economy healer - it wasn't!
Bait & Switch
It really doesn't matter what political persuasion, nobody likes being lied to or played and it feels like all Americans were sold on the stimulus plan as something that would fix our crumbling infrastructure. Instead it became a giant honey pot of money that was distributed to all kinds of pet projects that had nothing to do with shovels.
Only 3.8% of the stimulus budget went towards actual contracts, grants and loans for infrastructure.
It's really amazing when you think about the plan and how it was executed. Beneath the surface the spending of taxpayer money became even more egregious and farther from what was promised in the sales pitch. Check out just a few urgent things that needed your money so desperately you had to be told a big fat fib:
$221,355 spent at University of Indiana to study why young men do not like wearing condoms.
$389,357 spent at NYU to study why young adults drank malt liquor and smoked pot.
$850,000 researching how paying attention improves performance of difficult task.
$1,000,000 was spent on road signs in Ohio to tout the stimulus program.
$14,707,949 was used to build an airstrip to nowhere in a community in Alaska nobody ever heard of.
$30,000,000 of taxpayer money used to build new spring training facilities for Colorado and Arizona baseball teams.
Sadly, there are many more stories like those above.
London...Not Only Bridge Falling Down
The state of Washington got $8.0 billion from the federal stimulus project of which $800.0 million was used to work on that state's ambitious high speed rail project. When it's done, the Washington state high speed rail will be the first intercity passenger line in the nation connecting about two dozen cities. Currently the project is expected to cost $8.0 billion (but will be a lot more if it is ever completed).
20 of these rail projects began in 2012
5 more scheduled to begin this year
It's an ambitious project to say the least but one must wonder if it was a smart and proper use of funds under the circumstances. The American Society of Civil Engineers has outlined several problems with infrastructure in the state that seem more important than a vanity project of high speed rail.
There are 272 high hazard dams (there are only 8.5 full time workers employed for regulating and monitoring 121 dams).
There are 366 deficient bridges in the states.
An estimated $9.8 billion must be spent in next 20 years to ensure safe drinking water.
An estimated $5.3 billion must be spent in the next 20 years to remove waste water.
Then there's that bridge. The Skagit River Bridge had a C- grade from ASCE and recently saw repair projects. The bridge might have been more important than high speed rail.
I know a lot of the crumbling bridge stuff is hype (I-35 was actually a design flaw) designed to get more money from taxpayers that would be diverted to other areas totally unrelated to infrastructure. The greater point is the same people pointing fingers only find ways to redirect money spooked out of the general public or confiscated for emergencies.
Consider this when the next politician tries to scare you into joining his or her war of class envy.