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Baltimore bridge collapse sparks debate about American infrastructure

Larry Syverson | wikimedia commons

A cargo ship lost power and struck Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing part of the bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River below on March 26. The collapse is sparking a debate about whether American infrastructure regulations need to be updated.

The bodies of two construction workers were recovered from the collapse and identified. Four others are presumed dead.

“The national economy and the world’s economy depends on the Port of Baltimore,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said, referring to the collapse as a global crisis. “The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in the country.”

Moore also said in a news conference that the bridge was fully up to code. However, experts pointed out that the code that he is referring to needs to be updated as it came before a time of supersized cargo ships. Cargo ships have grown in size by about 50% in just the last decade alone, while the bridge was originally built in 1977.

About a third of bridges across the country need repair or replacement, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. Though there has been a steady improvement in bridge conditions over the years, some consider it to be too slow to catch up to modern demands.

“If you have to think in terms of catastrophe, we’re already there,” Amlan Mukherjee, the director of sustainability focusing on infrastructure at WAP Sustainability Consulting, told National Geographic.

“Every county in the country has a list of bridges that, if they had money, they would replace tomorrow.” Maria Lehman, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers and vice chair of the Biden administration’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council, said.

One piece of good news on the matter is that Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, giving $1.2 trillion over the course of five years to failing infrastructure systems. This should be taken with a grain of salt as the demands of the over 60,000 bridges across the country that need the money are likely to use it up rapidly.

Lehman said that the funding needs to be continuously renewed and that there should be systems in place that don’t need to rely on Congress agreeing to pass a bill every so often.

Though it may seem costly to maintain America’s subpar infrastructure, it will be even more costly when more bridges collapse and need to be rebuilt entirely, both in terms of monetary cost and in terms of the lives that may be at stake when a collapse occurs.

President Joe Biden pledged that the federal government would foot the bill when it comes to reconstruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

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