5. Bridges

Want to read something scary? Click over to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory site and do a little reading on the state of America’s bridges.

The good news is that most of them are in pretty good shape. More than half. The bad news is that some of our bridges are in pretty bad shape. How many? Try 149,647 rated structurally deficient. And most of those are still in use.

Drive for a half an hour and you’ll probably go over one. Or under one. Which is where the scary part comes in. Reassure yourself that the concrete under your car or over your head is probably only a little bit structurally deficient. It may be “equal to present minimum criteria,” or, better yet, “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

Or it may be “basically intolerable requiring high priority of replacement.”

You can search for specific bridges on your commute in the conveniently disturbing database at nationalbridges.com. That’s where I learned that my commute includes passage of only one “basically intolerable” bridge near West Chester, Pa. The good news there is PennDOT is repairing that bridge right now, using Recovery Act funding. The less good news is that the bridge was never closed. The rest of my commute involves several bridges that are in fine shape and several more of “minimum adequacy.”

Try saying that out loud in a reassuring sentence: “Don’t worry kids, this bridge is structurally deficient, but it has the minimum tolerable adequacy.” Not very reassuring, is it?

America has 149,647 such bridges.

So America has a lot of work to do on its bridges. As it just so happens, we also have 14.6 million people unable to find a job. So having a lot of work to do just now is a Good Thing.

As mentioned above, the Recovery Act did put thousands of Americans to work rebuilding bridges (among other things). Without that stimulus, according to the best estimate so far — from Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandi (.pdf) — the Recovery Act and the steps taken by the Fed and through TARP probably added around 2.7 million jobs and prevented the loss of 8.5 million. That’s awesome. Yay for that.

But, not to seem ungrateful, we’re not done yet. We still have, as noted, 14.6 million people in need of work. And we still have a great deal of urgently needed work for them to do. So while I very much appreciate that we’re not mired in what Blinder and Zandi say would otherwise have been “Great Depression 2.0,” and the Obama administration deserves high praise for that, we shouldn’t yet be satisfied because we’re not yet done.

(Think of it this way: Blinder & Zandi paint a portrait of the Obama administration as a heroic fireman who rescued 40 children from a burning school. True enough, but what B&Z don’t mention is that the school is still burning and there are still dozens more children trapped inside. So maybe we should be addressing that before we head off to the parade and the key-to-the-city ceremony.)

So the experience of the Recovery Act proves this isn’t just theory. Spend billions on needed bridge repair and we could easily create many, many more jobs. Tens of thousands certainly. Hundreds of thousands possibly. Perhaps millions.

The scope and scale of the work needed — 149,647 structurally deficient bridges — aligns with the scope and scale of our current need for work. If we chose to do so, we could fix all of these bridges in 2011 — every single one — by putting our army of otherwise unemployed Americans to work on the project.

Again of course it’s not quite that simple — unemployed teachers, policemen, salesmen and Web designers don’t have the skills that would easily translate into bridge-building. That would require a great deal of training. Hiring, say, a former car dealer to rebuild bridges might not be the most efficient way to get bridges rebuilt. But it would still be infinitely more efficient than the current non-plan of not hiring that former car dealer to do anything.

That’s a huge point, central to this whole discussion. Massive unemployment is an inefficient and expensive waste. It’s a waste of money, time and human capacity. Getting the unemployed off the sidelines to do anything of real use can never be as inefficient or unproductive as leaving those millions of people idle.

Let’s consider again the objection of deficit spending. The so-called deficit hawks object to repairing structurally deficient bridges because they say the government cannot afford to borrow money to do so — even at the low, low rates at which the government can now borrow it. Maintenance on these bridges must therefore, in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” be deferred indefinitely. This is nonsense — a dishonest trick that pretends to balance budgets by pretending that the cost of maintenance can be ignored, and that the cost of ignoring it can further be ignored, and so on. It’s a gimmick, a scam, a lie.

Deferred maintenance on these bridges is a liability, an expense that must be accounted for. It means we owe money to the infrastructure we are allowing to languish in disrepair — with interest on that debt ballooning the longer we put it off. Actually fixing the bridges pays that debt.

I am here suggesting that — let’s pick a big, round number — $300 billion be spent, immediately, on repairing America’s 149,647 deficient bridges.

That money will come from future tax revenue to repay current bonds. Rational citizens and shareholders have always respected, supported and relied on this form of borrowing — bonds for capital improvements. It has always been viewed as a responsible and necessary measure to ensure future health and growth.

But the so-called deficit hawks are pretending that bonds for capital improvements are unprecedented and unheard of. They claim that spending this $300 billion to repair crumbling bridges and put people back to work would entail “saddling our grandchildren with more debt.” They seem to think that “our grandchildren” will be far more grateful if we, instead, saddle them with crumbling bridges and the inability to travel 20 miles in any direction safely.

These supposed deficit hawks are also ignoring the erupting volcano in the room — the fact that 14.6 million Americans currently are not paying taxes due to being unable to find work. That unpaid revenue is a debt that really will be passed along to our grandchildren and that cost in current and future debt far exceeds the price tag for putting these millions back to work, immediately. It’s also an expense that — unlike money spent on bridges or sewers or water mains — buys nothing in return. The deficit hawks seem to prefer losing money to spending money. That’s no way to pay the bills or to balance the budget.

In other words, if we don’t get busy committing current and future tax revenues to putting people back to work and repairing our derelict infrastructure, then there won’t be any current or future tax revenues to argue about.

Future generations will be grateful to inherit a functioning infrastructure and a functioning economy, even if that also means inheriting their share of what that costs. The alternative — bequeathing them massive unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and the lingering austerity of a lost decade — is something future generations would be unlikely to forgive.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    I don’t blame people for making different choices than me, although I find it frustrating that so many people who live essentially next door won’t even try public transit, and won’t support public transportation for those of us who do need it.
    That, I get. I support public transit, and while I find the busses here scary — I didn’t always have a car in Seattle — as soon as the light rail gets within five miles of my house, I’ll be driving down to there, parking, and riding the rest of the way. Of course, that will be years, and by that point I may be spending most of my time at a new restaurant that isn’t anywhere close to the line. *shrug*
    But yeah, assumption of cars, cuts both ways, right there with ya. I have plenty of friends (and employees, at this point) who don’t have cars, and I try to keep it in mind as much as possible.
    Not much to add to what Mary Kaye said, cuz yeah.

  • YetAnotherKevin

    If I ever, ye gods, get around to writing the “1930s/WWII but with elves” stuff I want to do, it’ll probably include some CCC/New Deal bits.

    Have you read “Doc Sidhe”? That’s more 20s pulp / art deco with elves, but kind of a fun read.

  • YetAnotherKevin

    In a nutshell, the problem with busses is that the routes and schedules, like several of your fellow passengers, are completely deranged.

  • renniejoy

    Or the bus is always late, and the website that “has up-to-the-minute” information about each route refuses to say anything about the bus you want, so your wife has to pick you from the bus stop that’s 15 minutes away by car. Thanks, King County Metro!

  • truth is life

    One very graphical example of the improvements infrastructure development can bring (and this was done by private companies, too!):
    In 1830, it took about 2 weeks to reach New Orleans from New York.
    In 1857 (just 27 years later), it took less than 6 days. And you could get across the country in about the same amount of time it needed (in 1830) to reach Minneapolis. And this is before the Transcontinental, understand. Many more examples there. Imagine the same magnitude of improvement in the efficiency of drains or electrical grids.

  • MaryKaye

    YetAnotherKevin wrote: “In a nutshell, the problem with busses is that the routes and schedules, like several of your fellow passengers, are completely deranged.”
    Maybe. I’ve been taking buses alone in Seattle since I was 15, and have yet to be assaulted. I have met some disturbed people, but certainly not several per bus.
    On the other hand, the local opinion-papers (the Stranger and the Weekly) seem *never* to write about buses without mentioning the deranged-passenger issue. They make it sound like a huge issue, until I start to wonder–are cars serving to keep us more insulated from the realities of our city? Is avoiding dealing with other people a good societal goal?
    In San Francisco people had an arrangement where solo drivers would pick pedestrians up just this side of the toll bridge and drop them off on the other side. But a lot of folks were too scared to do this, and resorted to things like (in a couple of publicized cases) blow-up sex toys masquerading as passengers in order to avoid the toll. We are, societally, awfully scared of each other sometimes.

  • Lonespark

    The main reason I never took public transportation to work was having kids. Before I had kids it was fine, and the brief period when my husband was unemployed and therefore able to pick up the one kid we had then from daycare was also fine. Theoretically the other brief period during which I had one kid and a subsidized daycare five blocks from my workplace would have worked, too, but I would have had to change buses or take my bike on the bus with the baby and it was a big challenge I never felt up to. That convenient daycare was closed by the time I had another baby, and the only childcare I could afford was nowhere either my workplace or the route to my workplace. I would have been on the light rail and various buses for several hours each day with two tiny kids.
    Most of the folks I worked with (all the other folks in my group), none of whom had kids in the household, either took the bus because they couldn’t afford to drive or drove because they couldn’t afford a house reached by the bus.

  • http://isabelcooper.wordpress.com Izzy

    Doc Sidhe is definitely on my Great Big List O’Books. Because: awesome.
    Public transportation works pretty well for me. Every month or two I run into a random shouty person, or a drunk guy who wants to ask me a lot of questions about my book*, which is the book that I AM READING, and if I wanted to talk to you, I WOULD NOT BE READING, so shut the fuck up, That Guy, GOD. But I’ve never encountered anyone who seemed dangerous. Boston’s kind of cool that way.
    I think it’s fine not to want to deal with other people. The monkeysphere is only so big; I wish everyone the theoretical best; I don’t think I have an obligation to make friends with random strangers. That said, most people on public transportation who don’t get normal etiquette are the kind I can generally just ignore. Most of my problem is the crowds, and the delays, and the latter aren’t any worse or more frequent than traffic jams, probably.
    On the other hand, I live in metropolitan Boston, so public transportation is pretty convenient.
    *During one round of the ENDLESS FUCKING ebooks v. print debate, someone on the print books side said that “people can see the covers, and start up a conversation with you!” Sounds about as much of a selling point as “…and you get these disfiguring painful boils, ABSOLUTELY FREE!” And now, post-LJ conversation, I need to learn to sew and embroider so that I can make Kindle covers that say things like “STFU, Dumbass”, “This Book is Way More Interesting Than You”, and “The Story of an Idiot who Bothered This One Girl While Reading, So She Totally Killed Him, With a Chainsaw Even”.

  • Spearmint

    During one round of the ENDLESS FUCKING ebooks v. print debate, someone on the print books side said that “people can see the covers, and start up a conversation with you!” Sounds about as much of a selling point as “…and you get these disfiguring painful boils, ABSOLUTELY FREE!” And now, post-LJ conversation, I need to learn to sew and embroider so that I can make Kindle covers that say things like “STFU, Dumbass”, “This Book is Way More Interesting Than You”, and “The Story of an Idiot who Bothered This One Girl While Reading, So She Totally Killed Him, With a Chainsaw Even”.
    This paragraph is the best paragraph ever. I was trying to decide whether to award you an internet for the boils or the chainsaw, and then I was like “Fuck it, I’ll just quote the whole thing and say Izzy wins the thread.”

  • cjmr

    Izzy, I will gladly make you a Kindle cover that says any of those things, if someone will send me the dimensions for a Kindle, so I know how big a Kindle cover should be.
    In other news, the cjmr household is now relocated to Massachusetts. (Which means, apparently, that I will have to learn how to SPELL Massachusetts consistently. And hopefully also correctly.)

  • hapax

    In other news, the cjmr household is now relocated to Massachusetts.
    Oh, hurrah! I had worried, considering the tone and then cessation of lj postings.
    As for the spelling thereof, it helps a lot if you had a close relative attending MIT.
    Back in the days that were free from care in the ‘ology varsity shop,
    With nothing to do but analyze air in an anemometrical top.
    Or the simple differentiation of the trigonometric pow’rs
    The constant pi that made me sigh in those happy days of ours…

  • Lonespark

    What part of Massachusetts? Glad to hear from y’all again.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, who really doesn’t feel tired at all

    Maybe. I’ve been taking buses alone in Seattle since I was 15, and have yet to be assaulted. I have met some disturbed people, but certainly not several per bus.
    I never had problems with disturbed or deranged people, but I certainly had trouble with people, mostly men, harassing me, either sexually or generally.
    Every month or two I run into a random shouty person, or a drunk guy who wants to ask me a lot of questions about my book*, which is the book that I AM READING, and if I wanted to talk to you, I WOULD NOT BE READING, so shut the fuck up, That Guy, GOD.
    Oh, yes, I got those rather more often than once a month.
    And, much as with Schroedinger’s Rapist, that can sometimes come across as really fucking creepy. Especially when they get off at the same stop you do. And start walking in the same direction. (Happened once. He turned about half a block later and went into a store or something. Still really fucking creepy.)
    I was new to Seattle when I was riding the bus regularly, and it was the largest city I’d ever lived in, and it had an entirely different set of manners from what I was accustomed to, and so maybe everything was scarier than it would be today, but riding the bus was pretty scary for me.
    Also, wild mad applause for the paragraph with the boils and the chainsaw, because yes, THAT, and exceptionally well-said.

  • thirstygirl

    Izzy- oh heck yes, not displaying covers is one of the things I love most about e-books. Of course then people start wanting to talk to you *about* the gadget but I’ve found the best approach is be enthusiastic AND geeky back at them and start extensive comparisons about the devices I’ve used and the various pro’s and cons. Which makes people back away pretty quickly.
    : )

  • P J Evans

    But the whole “tear down the bridge, don’t replace it, discourage driving” system just makes greens out to be evil folks who want others to suffer.
    It makes me think they’ve never lived outside a major city. If they had, they’d know that buses don’t run twenty or thirty miles out into the country, and if you don’t have a vehicle, you’ll need neighbors or friends who are very cooperative.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/reynard61 reynard61

    Posted by cjmr: In other news, the cjmr household is now relocated to Massachusetts. (Which means, apparently, that I will have to learn how to SPELL Massachusetts consistently. And hopefully also correctly.)
    You’d better learn to *pronounce* it correctly too! I learned that lesson the hard way when I accidentally mispronounced it in school and was mercilessly hounded for weeks afterward by fellow students demanding that I both correctly pronounce *and* spell it under pain of constant razzing. Massachusans are, quite rightfully, proud of their history and heritage and woe betide anyone who takes the name of their Commonwealth in vain…or mispronounces it…

  • cjmr

    What part of Massachusetts? Glad to hear from y’all again.
    Glad to have enough time to actually be reading comments threads again!
    We’re out near Worchester, which even the kids have managed to be able to learn is pronounced Woos-tah.

  • Lonespark

    Woostah! Neat. Is that where the Higgins Armory is?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @cjmr: the cjmr household is now relocated to Massachusetts. (Which means, apparently, that I will have to learn how to SPELL Massachusetts consistently.
    Great to see you posting again — hope you will have more time now to drop in.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Massachusetts: from a First Nations word meaning “Great big bay”.
    Pulling into Sydney Harbor, we headed for the RAN base known as HMS Waterhen on “Woolamaroo Bay”. The navigator asked the Australian Harbor Pilot where they got a name like “Woolamaroo”. His answer:
    “Same place you got Massachusetts, mate.”

  • http://isabelcooper.wordpress.com Izzy, The Reason We Can’t Have Nice Things

    Cmjr: Dude, excellent! We can go into business together or something. :) Also, I have some friends who just moved out of Woo-stah. There’s a nice tapas place somewhere near the train station!
    MG: Exactly. I don’t feel threatened that often, personally, but I certainly feel…annoyed, or discombobulated, or embarrassed. (I’m WASP-y enough to hate being part of A Scene, regardless of whether someone else is actually doing the embarrassing bit.) Then again, I never had anyone follow me, because oh my God would that freak me out. Glad you ended up okay.
    Spearmint: Ooh, an Internet! Thank you!
    Thirstygirl: Nice! I should try this if/when I get an ereader. (I love the concept. In practice, I will wait until they come down in price, because I’m the sort of person who leaves her cell phone somewhere random every couple months.)

  • Isaac

    @Falconer
    “The problem with Atlas Shrugged is that the solution the book puts forth is for the rich people to go on strike. Now, I haven’t read the book, but I’m not sure how that is supposed to work out for the crumbling infrastructure.”
    Then it might be a good idea to read the book then. ;)
    My impression of the purpose of the strike was to simply allow the world to have what it wanted. That is, rather than resist the corrosive influences of the looters penalizing people for being successful, simply allow the looters to have a world where no one is successful. That world will descend to its logical conclusion and self-destruct, then the strikers will emerge from their hiding places and rebuild the world.
    So the strike isn’t supposed to help the crumbling infrastructure, thats the point. The strike is intended to show that without people of talent being allowed to innovate, no such infrastructure can exist.
    @Randomisity
    “The people who would be invited to the Galt’s Gulch Executive Retreat are the kind of people who wouldn’t know how to do basic back-to-the-earth survival tasks. I doubt many would miss the absence of the executives. Their admin assistants would take over the day to day running of the company and do a good job of it.”
    Those aren’t the people who did get invited to Galt’s Gulch. The only person there who had no quantifiably useful talent was Midas Mulligan, the banker.
    And the book did state in the character of Eddie Willers that middle management administrative assistants can keep the infrastructure running, but that they are not innovative enough to expand the infrastructure or solve a major crisis.
    Take note of the fact that neither James Taggart, the president of the railroad, nor any of the board of directors were invited to Galt’s Gulch.
    While I am not the biggest fan of Rand’s philosophy (much less her atheism), we should at least be fair to the novel’s description of the heroes.
    The heroes are NOT the fat useless executives who possess no innovative or administrative talent. They are not the people Rand believes are the ones who deserve entry into “Atlantis” because Galt never invited them but yet most people think thats what she means. I read the novel last month and I can tell you all that Rand has no love for the James Taggarts of the world.

  • Isaac

    Oh by the way, Rand doesn’t just believe that high level innovative and talented executives deserve entry into “Atlantis.” If anyone has read the novel, you would’ve seen her lavish praise on the technically minded working man as well. Her opinion of extremely unskilled labor is one I am still trying to flesh out, but make no mistake that railroad workers, steel workers, pilots, farm laborers and more all join the strike themselves.
    As a matter of fact, Rand points out that the infrastructure’s collaspe is remarkably accelerated when mid-level technical management such as foremans start to quit.

  • prior_approval

    Not even 10% of the comments of a discussion of privilege, which included information about how to best lace a corset.
    Infrastructure is boring – so here is my fortune cookie contribution – ‘America will continue to crumbe before your eyes, when they aren’t in front of a screen.’

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I was just wondering if cjmr et al had made a successful transition to the Northlands. Good to hear from you!

  • cjmr

    Mike,
    The transition won’t be completely successful until the MD house SELLS, but we’re here and unpacking and settling in.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/rajexplorer Raj

    cjmr, you did bring all your soft cushions, right?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    Izzy: “1930s/WWII but with elves”
    Ooooooh! I would read the hell out of that, I would! *encourageencourageencourage*

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    I love that strip. Every time I see it I LOL heartily. XD

  • cjmr

    Yes, Raj, and a few extra even came with the new house!

  • http://www.tvshowboards.com/stargate/ Erik Bloodaxe

    (This may go some way towards explaining why my own attempt at a zombie apocalypse story had a grand total of one on-screen zombie. *facepalm*)

    Part of me thinks that could actually be scarier, depending on when and how the zombie shows up. The audience would be expecting more earlier, so that after awhile that expectation may cease and they’ll let their guard down, till finally… BAM! :)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    Erik Bloodaxe: Part of me thinks that could actually be scarier, depending on when and how the zombie shows up. The audience would be expecting more earlier, so that after awhile that expectation may cease and they’ll let their guard down, till finally… BAM! :)
    See, that would be the smart way to do it. Instead, I put in Patient Zero, so to speak, in the prologue, and the nezxt time we see zombies, it’s 20,000 words later, and they’re dead in the background.
    I’m special. :D


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