Sunday, August 02, 2015

Grass Bridges

Grass Bridges

In case you haven’t heard, our faithful representatives to Congress again failed to pass a long term extension of the Highway Trust Fund.  Or more precisely, the Senate and the House each passed bills that are unlikely to be agreed by the other and neither will be signed by the Executive. Despite appropriations being one of the most important responsibilities of our legislative branch, they fell down on the job. 

No, this is not a political topic – all sides failed on this one.  The most important consequences are economic and safety. The longer we drive on crumbling roads and bridges, the more likely we are to have tragedies like the bridge in Minnesota that killed dozens of drivers and just had its eighth anniversary.  We need a transportation bill to protect our lives.

And the longer we wait to repair our roads and bridges, the more expensive it will be to fix them.  Spending money requires finding revenue, so Congress’ fear of taxes today is going to increase the need for taxes later.  They are kicking the can down the road hoping that it is their successors who will have to deal with it.  The loser in this game is us – you and me the taxpayer.

Then I heard this story on Innovation Hub and was astonished by the contrast. The bridge at the heart of the story is completely replaced every year, without government debate or controversy. And it has been in continuous existence for 600 years.  600 years!! We don’t have a bridge half that age. And we are lucky to maintain them once a decade.

Of course, you might say that this low tech bridge is much easier to maintain. If our bridges were easy to maintain, we would do it every year as well.

But that is my point. Let’s do some integrative thinking here.  Are there different materials that we could use that might be easier to maintain? Are their maintenance schedules that optimize the balance between safety, cost, and convenience?

And then the harder question. Can we find a way to force Congress to follow these prescriptions? Use these materials? Fund these maintenance schedules?