Saturday, August 4, 2007

What happened to the "defense" in Interstate highways?

The US Congress voted to appropriate $250 million to rebuild the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, on top of an equal amount pledge by the Minnesota state legislature. While there is nothing to suggest what happened was an act of terrorism, the accident has exposed a huge failure in US thinking -- the lack of maintenance of ways.

When the Interstate system was first developed in the 1950s, the main concern was not to do with intercity commerce but defense considerations -- the need to move land forces from one city to another in the event of a civil emergency. The network is called the "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways "and with good reason: When Eisenhower took some troops across America to thank Americans for their support after World War One, it proved to be a national embarrassment as it took two months for the convoy to go across the country and bridge after bridge simply snapped. Later, Ike could only watch with horror when Hitler built the Autobahns and used them with striking force -- continental Europe was indeed Blitzkrieged. After World War Two, Dwight wasn't about to let America get suckered again.

Roads aren't just a means to move goods and services as well as people and capital; they're vital to national security. Imagine if the half a trillion spent in Iraq was instead spent on basic infrastructure improvements. Terrorists have just found a new vulnerability -- just because Washington was too cheap to spend a couple thousand bucks on a simple paint job to cover up rust. And don't forget, 2000 bridges collapse in the US each year. It's just that 1980 of them aren't worthy of coverage even in community papers.

All AQ needs to bring down an endangered bridge is a stick of dynamite or even C4 -- not a truck bomb. Thank Karl Rove for screwing up America's priorities, kids.

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