I’ve been riveted to the continuing news coverage of the I-35 bridge collapse in the Twin Cities ever since Casey and I saw the first report come in shortly after 6:30pm last evening. This one hit me close to home, having grown up in northern Minnesota and having lots of friends and family living down in the Metro area. Thankfully, word from them is slowly rolling in, and they all appear to be safe.
This event reminds me just how invisible our infrastructure has become to us, and how much we take it for granted. This sort of collapse just doesn’t happen, so when it does (rarely), it shakes our trust and causes us to ask all sorts of questions. The immediate ones people are asking now, common for this type of disaster, are 1) Why did this happen and 2) Who do we blame?
I understand the desire for answers here, but I think lots of time is needed to complete a structural investigation. Already, politicians are trying to use this tragedy for their benefit. Minnesota representative Jim Oberstar is the one I’m thinking of in particular, who blamed President Bush in an NPR interview because the DOT received fewer funds than they asked for last year.
I’ll preface this by saying I’m absolutely not a civil engineer, but when experts eventually come to a conclusion on the cause of the bridge collapse, I think they’ll determine it was a cascading failure and not a singular reason. The postmortem analysis will also convince us in thinking that we could somehow have predicted this, somehow prevented it. The problem is, this is a so-called black swan, an event no one would have expected. Even though it’s an outlier, we’ll believe (foolishly) the explanations we’ll inevitably come up with.
This disaster will hopefully act as a startling symptom to this country’s chronic lack of attention to its transportation infrastructure. I’d like to believe this will result in some big changes, but my lack of confidence in our government(s) prevents me from getting my hopes up.