Decaying Bridges Put Motorists at Risk


The folk duo Simon & Garfunkel released “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” in 1970. However, structural engineers and policy makers state the problem lies not with the water, but with the deteriorating quality of the bridges across the nation. In short, as a driver, you put your life potentially at risk when you drive over an aging, decaying bridge.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) examined the problem with bridges and 14 other infrastructure categories in a comprehensive report released after the collapse of an eight-lane bridge in 2007 in Minnesota killed 13 commuters and injured more than 100 others. What causes bridge collapses like the one in Minnesota? The causes are varied, and range from natural disasters like earthquakes and fires, to vehicle incidents like train crashes, boat impacts, construction accidents, manufacturing and design defects, and general poor maintenance.

Professionals tasked with building and inspections do not always detect problems before tragedy occurs. Minnesota officials inspected the bridge in May 2007, three months before the catastrophe. The ASCE report stated some 1,500 bridges in the United States collapsed between 1966 and 2005. Hydraulic conditions, especially soil erosion around the bridge supports during major floods, accounted for 60 percent of the collapses.

Earthquakes and floods are called “acts of God.” That cannot be said about the decay of bridges that experts blame on neglect and declining public investment. For instance, the ASCE report blamed the collapse of the bridge on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minnesota on “years of neglect, underfunding, and a lack of leadership and vision …” Does this sound familiar regarding a bridge in your town, where you know its upkeep has been delayed by authorities? What can you do to protect yourself if a crossing a bridge is part of your daily commute or travel plans?

  • Pay attention to cautionary signs that warn of weight limits, height restrictions and danger areas on and around the bridge.
  • Watch for passengers who might be on the bridge, distracting motorists.
  • Refrain from taking any chances if you think you can beat the time before the drawbridge goes up.
  • Report any suspicious construction to authorities. If that bridge has not been maintained in awhile, a fresh eye might see features otherwise unnoticed.

American motorists assume they travel on road and bridges that are well-maintained. Putting your life in your own hands by driving on a bridge that is structurally deficient is not something we care to do. If poor maintenance and other human errors affecting bridges have harmed you or someone you know, enlist the support of a personal injury law firm who can help you with your case.