An I-95 bridge collapse in Philadelphia made headlines just a week ago, and the disaster gives insight into a pervasive infrastructure problem in the U.S.
- Last week, a bridge on I-95 in Philadelphia collapsed after a tanker truck filled with gasoline crashed into the bridge supports and exploded.
- While the crash was a freak accident, the amount of time repairs are expected to take highlights America’s infrastructure issues.
- As an important part of the U.S. supply chain, repair crews are working tirelessly to get the bridge back in working order before causing too many disruptions.
- The highway is expected to reopen on Friday, thanks to temporary repairs using gravel made from recycled materials. However, a permanent fix will likely take much longer.
- America’s infrastructure needs updates and repairs, but lengthy construction times frequently prevent crews from completing multiple projects.
Why it’s news
As an important part of the American supply chain, U.S. roads and bridges help truckers transport goods and supplies to factories and end users. Disruptions to them, such as I-95 collapse, represent a significant problem for distributors and trucking companies. Detours will result in delays and may even cause a temporary price jump.
American infrastructure has been less than ideal for some time. Since 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the U.S. a D or D+ infrastructure rating. The most recent report from 2021 gives the U.S. its highest rating so far—a C+. While this is an improvement, the report still points out several areas of concern. ASCE found that 43% of public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition.
“Americans recognize the need to repair our nation’s aging and deteriorating infrastructure,” the report says. “Yet we are still not investing in infrastructure to the level that is required given these systems serve as the backbone of our economy. Failing to act to rebuild America’s infrastructure costs every American family $3,300 a year, with significant costs and consequences to the national economy.”
Former President Donald Trump promised $1 trillion in infrastructure spending during his term, but his administration’s efforts to promote the programs were repeatedly overshadowed by other news, such as the James Comey Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.
The Biden administration has had a little more success pushing funding toward infrastructure. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in 2021, authorized $108 billion for public transportation improvements. While increased funding will undoubtedly give states more options for road repair, regulatory red tape remains an issue preventing quick construction.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed discussing the I-95 bridge collapse, National Review columnist John Fund pointed out similar major highway disruptions. An exploding tanker in Oakland, California, destroyed a connector on the MacArthur interchange in 2007. This disaster, while similar to the current Philadelphia incident, took merely 26 days to repair.
“A big reason was the selection of the now-defunct contractor C.C. Myers Inc.,” Fund says. “The company’s bid of $867,000 was estimated to cover only a third of the actual cost, but C.C. Myers counted on making up the difference, since it would be paid an incentive of $200,000 a day if the work was completed in less than two months. The firm earned a $5 million bonus.”
The contractor already had a reputation for quickly repairing a fallen freeway overpass following a 1994 earthquake. Then-Governor Pete Wilson had been told the repairs would take 26 months. Wilson removed bureaucratic red tape, and the freeway reopened 84 days after the incident.
Wilson’s moves to expedite the repairs were far-reaching, going so far as to suspend union-regulated overtime rules. However, Governor Wilson’s most effective tactic was the incentives he offered.
“He told contractors their bids had to specify when work would be finished, and that they would incur a daily penalty of $200,000 if they were late,” Fund says.
Bureaucratic red tape is certainly one of the reasons road repairs can take up so much time. In 2020, Trump signed an executive order to alleviate some regulatory red tape that often slows infrastructure projects.
The order instructed agencies such as Interior, Agriculture, Defense, and the Army Corp of Engineers to expedite permitting processes instituted by the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act. The move was criticized by environmentalists who argued these processes were necessarily slow to protect waterways and wildlife.