Safe Bridges Held Hostage to Light Rail

by lewwaters

Hostage 1Since the collapse of the I-5 Bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, Washington, the rhetoric has grown increasingly heated over decades of deterioration of our highways and bridges. We all know hundreds, if not thousands of bridges across America have been allowed to fall into disrepair, jeopardizing the safety of our families as we commute back and forth.

With spending trillions of dollars each and every year, why have our roadways become tantamount to death traps for commuters? With well paid engineers, expensive equipment owned by states and state employed crews, as well as private companies fully capable of repairing, rebuilding or even replacing aging bridges, what possible excuse is there for our bridges to be in such poor condition?

Even with that, bridge collapses are rare. After the deadly Minneapolis Bridge collapse back in 2007, ABC ran a story Deadly Bridge Collapses Through the Decades listing such collapses at that time. But still, as rare as they may be, given the known condition of so many bridges, we are tempting fate with letting them continue in such condition.

As the ABC article shows, most are due to uncontrollable outside factors, fuel truck fire weakening steel, struck by out of control ships and as we now know on the Skagit Bridge, over-sized loads striking critical structural beams.

Part of the rhetoric now heard is those bridges should be designed to withstand such impact, as if we humans can foresee every occurrence of the future. We may as well call on engineers to design airplanes so they don’t crash or our automobiles to not run into each other.

There is only so much one can do to prevent tragedy and even though we cannot predict such events as a ship or truck impacting critical components on our bridges, we can do our best to maintain such bridges so they don’t just collapse unexpectedly as happened in Minneapolis in 2007.

With all of the money taken from taxpayers and borrowed from corporations and foreign countries like China, giving us some $17 Trillion in National Debt, the highest Debt of any country on the planet, how is it we don’t have safer bridges? Just what stops our bridges from being repaired or replaced as need be?

While it may not be true of every bridge in the country, we need look no further than the Columbia River Crossing light rail project for a good indication of why.

While Democrats like Washington State Rep. Jim McDermott latch onto the Skagit Bridge collapse to engage in partisan finger pointing, left out of the discussion is word of Democrats like Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber of, “no light rail, no bridge” in replacing the aging I-5 bridge between Washington State and Oregon.

The light rail issue has been a thorn in the sides of people for many years, Clark County Washington voting it down directly in 1995 and Oregon devising a sneaky way to force it into Clark County against voters’ wishes by attaching it to a replacement bridge across the Columbia River as explained in the article, The $2.5 Billion Bribe from the Willamette Week.

What happened to safety, easing congestion or improving freight mobility? Since those are the reasons given for replacing the spans, how does light rail fit in? How does a simple $800 Million bridge project turn into an excess of $5 Billion to accommodate extending light rail that taxpayers repeatedly rejected?

Also not being discussed is that in order to build a bridge along the I-5 corridor that will accommodate light rail, the bridge must decrease river traffic clearance, light rail unable to climb steeper grades that a bridge with proper clearance would have.

If you look back to the ABC article above you will see, “a 500-foot section of a bridge spanning the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls, Okla., collapsed after a barge ran into one of its supports,” “Texas’ Queen Isabella Causeway gave way after a string of barges driven off course by currents crashed into a bridge support” and “the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida collapsed after a freighter struck it during a storm.”

Three of the worst collapses in America were caused by impacts from waterborne craft.

And proponents of the CRC want to force us to accept a bridge with the lowest clearance for river traffic for 190 miles, knowing how heavily the Columbia River is used for shipping barges and more downriver?

Looking at the graphic below, supplied by the CRC, light rail will be confined to an enclosed second tier hung beneath the main roadway, causing the inadequate river traffic clearance problem, leaving it more susceptible to collision with waterborne craft.

CRC Cross Section of Proposed Bridge

Every year across America, hundreds of billions of dollars are diverted from transportation budgets to construct light rail lines. Sometimes with voter approval and often times with voters being ignored. Hundreds of millions of dollars are also diverted every year to maintain and operate light rail lines across the land.

That is hundreds of billions of precious tax dollars diverted away from bridge repairs and maintenance, even replacement of much needed unsafe bridges to light rail that many communities cannot even afford, causing taxes on middle class citizens to greatly increase.

Money is taken away from reliable, flexible buses to be spent keeping inflexible, unreliable light rail cars going.

In the link above, Rep. McDermott blames Republicans, ignoring that it has been his party primarily diverting those hundreds of billions of tax dollars to light rail programs while our bridges languish.

And his answer? “Lawmakers can find extra money to pay for transportation projects by raising the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax.”

We hear the same answer from Washington Governor Jay Inslee who also wants to raise the states gas tax, both ignoring, or not caring about the burden they are placing on struggling middle class families currently paying $4 a gallon for gas to be able not drive to work or drive to job interviews.

Neither gives any consideration to backing away from expensive, bloated light rail projects and using what tax dollars we have to repair or replace so many bridges.

No, they fall right in line with Oregon Governor Kitzhaber in holding bridges hostage to light rail projects with his “no light rail, no bridge.”

While many have latched onto the Skagit Bridge collapse to berate conservatives for wanting to allow the middle class to retain a little more of their paychecks, do not let yourselves be fooled. The money to repair these bridges has been there all along, but has been and is still being squandered on expensive and unnecessary light rail projects.

Obviously, the people’s safety when crossing bridges is not as important as forcing communities to accept light rail across America, especially here in Clark County Washington with the Columbia River Crossing light rail project.

14 Comments to “Safe Bridges Held Hostage to Light Rail”

  1. Lew, I think you are mistaken, my friend. Trucks will only travel on the upper decks of the bridge, along with cars. Light rail uses the lower deck on the southbound span. Two trains, north & south. Pedestrians & bikes get one side of the northbound lower deck. Along side that, take note…there is NOTHING planned to fill that lane! How efficient is that? Maybe they could use that space for their museum, or set up food carts along there. :) Don’t get me wrong, I oppose this monstrosity as much as anyone. Just settin’ ya straight….

  2. Oops, missed that, I’ll edit it. Thanks

  3. Nice article. I enjoyed reading it and will share it.

  4. psychotic lefties have no brains or common sense.

  5. We get plenty of money from gas taxes now. The problem is that much of it is not being used to rebuild our highways and bridges. We need a complete accounting of the money we take in now before we ask taxpayers for 1 more dime.

  6. Bob, don’t forget Christine Gregoire’s words from 2005 when she came down to ramp up support for her 9.5¢ per gallon gas tax increase then.

    “Today it’s Seattle and the viaduct; tomorrow it’s Clark County and the bridges to Portland. Someday I’m going to ask the citizens in King County to invest in Clark County.”

    Seems to me, it’s still the Seattle area and Puget Sound sucking up all of the tax dollars for the same project she fronted back then.

    And now we find out they need even more due to defective pontoons used.

    As for CRC, no one has yet explained how light rail enhances bridge safety or why we allow a bridge to be held hostage to light rail.

  7. Today’s Wall Street Journal had an excellent article that explained the “score” attributed to a bridge. The Skagit River bridge had a structural score of (sufficiency rating) of 50 out of 100. That is about average for highway bridges. A bridge nees a sufficiency rating score of 80 or below to qualify for Federal funding to pay for repairs, or 50 and below for funding to help pay for replacement. However, the bridge was current on inspections and considered “safe” … aside from having a “through truss” design that is unforgiving of damage as with an oversize load hitting a structural beam at the top of the bridge. See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323336104578503471483105446.html

    Many bridges in our state are also considered “functionally obsolete.” This term is applied to bridges that lack shoulders or have lanes less wide than current standards. This has nothing to do with the physical structure, but rather is an issue with handling traffic. The Interstate Bridge (over the Columbia) is considered “functionally obsolete” due to the lack of shoulder/emergency parking and due to somewhat narrow lanes.

    Since the Interstate Bridge has the same through truss design as the Skagit (and many other Interstate 5) bridge(s), there might be some reason for concern should the Interstate bridge have a serious collision with either a ship or a large truck carrying a very heavy load. However, these are potentialities that can not be predicted and are difficult to design out of possibility. The article concludes that “modern-day” bridge design that such collisions are less likely. (Through truss bridges are not used on highways anymore.)

  8. At a senate transportation hearing in this Washington this session, was glad to hear that preservation of existing infrastructure is priority. With 7840 bridges in WA state to maintain, as well as existing highways, I sure hope that maintaining what we have is a higher priority than wasting funds on adding unnecessary luxury features like light rail for a very few to the proposed CRC bridges at $ 297 MILLION/mile or so just to build light rail. Plus many $$ MILLIONS more to operate per/year. Clark County CTRAN voters REJECTED the proposition to extend debt ridden TRIMET light rail into Clark County in November 2012.

  9. Lew, what I was told years ago by a CRC official in a response to my questions was the following –

    The two bridges today have no pull-out lanes. In the case of a rear-end fender bender, there’s no place anybody has to move their cars to safety, other than pulling off at Hayden Island…hence the increased risk of another vehicle striking the ones involved and creating an even bigger nightmare of a commute.

    It makes sense to replace the bridges for this reason, but is it worth the price tag which includes LRT? Of course not. If they’d get their brains into “beneficial thought process mode,” rather than “pet project mode,” the CRC proponents would realize just replacing the bridges with improved access ramps with the two merge lanes would more than suffice for the needs of the corridor. I-5 Bridges are already part of the HCT recommendation by the Feds since C-Tran already provides Express Buses as well as Bus 4 to Portland. You can’t force people to ride light rail or buses. As long as there’s another alternative like carpooling or telecommuting, people aren’t going to buy their empty dream!

    Federal tax funding should go towards bridge infrastructure, not a pet project and the funding should be distributed by needs…such as the Skagit River bridge.

    Regarding the grading of quality of bridges by…Oregon has a rating of C- on their bridges. The nation…a D+. Washington State also received a C- rating which means it’s obvious we have issues, but other states would be on the priority list for federal funding…and by the looks of things with regards to only $1 million of Federal Tax Dollars going to help replace the damaged span, the states will have to cough up a lot of bucks in order to repair or replace these bridges. The competition for federal funding is high.

    If it’s not in the budget here in Washington State, you KNOW they’ll either install a toll system around the structurally-deficient or functionally-obsolete bridges in order to pay for state bonds….OR….we’re looking at that ten-cent fuel tax increase once again. Ohhh…if they’d only stop with the pet projects and get serious with what needs to be done, rather than what they want!!!

  10. I know few people who argue for no bridge at all. But, it isn’t us holding it hostage to light rail at any cost. Light rail that has repeatedly been rejected by voters, even within the gerrymandered sub-district C-Tran set up in 2005.

    And now we see those light rail at any cost crowd crying about bridge safety, due to the Skagit collapse, but who ignore that they advocate creating a potentially unsafe bridge clearance for river traffic, leaving th new bridge more susceptible to a collision from river shipping, especially when the river level rises, as it does every year.

  11. The crowd you speak of has lost the foothold they thought they’d gained by slipping through the cracks of voter approval and deception.

  12. The Psychotic Bastards don’t care any more about “safety” than they do about “facts”They’re just selfish Elitist sonsabitches throwing a Tantrum to get a new “toy” like a bunch of Goddamned little kids.

  13. Partisans on either side of the CRC issue agreed on a few points Friday: It was a miracle no one died in the Skagit collapse, and fixing the span north of Seattle and ensuring that other bridges are safe is urgent. Beyond that, the divide only deepened between those who see the CRC as a boondoggle and plot to extend light rail, and those who support the project to improve safety and cut congestion.

  14. Eddie, I am sure you noticed how quickly CRC proponents latched onto the collapse to promote the CRC, even before it became known that a truck with an oversized load impacting critical structures brought it down. And they haven’t let up.

    No one on the CRC side has yet shown any real ending of congestion and if safety is their concern, why do we hear “no light rail, no bridge?” Light rail adds nothing to any safety an with the unsafe clearance for river traffic they advocate in order to keep the grade low enough for light rail to cross, it looks to me like the bridge will be more unsafe then, more susceptible to river traffic collision.

    Far too many issues remain ignored and swept under the rug for us to think it is simply poor management.

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