The early 21st century may be remembered as the time America began to crumble. While the assertion may lapse into hyperbole, the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge at Minneapolis on August 1 focused our attention on the perilous condition of our structural underpinnings, and we found them weak. While the experts continue to evaluate exactly what went wrong in Minneapolis/St. Paul, this disaster follows in the wake of other spectacular failures in other cities.
Remember Boston in July 2006? We are only now fully sorting through the forensic evidence surrounding the malfunction of 20 ceiling anchors that dropped 10 precast-concrete panels weighing 26 tons into the Interstate 90 tunnel. Just this summer in New York, the streets have blown up (a steam pipe explosion at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 41st Street on July 18) and the underground drowned (a deluge on August 8 virtually shut down Manhattan mass transit on a busy workday). Apocalypse Now, or are we fraying at the seams? Patricia Galloway, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), writing about infrastructure on enr.com, wrote, “(Can we) assure those using our infrastructure that they are not risking their lives simply by using it?”