Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Critical Link is Closed and Citizens Pay the Price

With all the attention the closure of the San Francisco Bay bridge has been getting you may have missed another bridge closure on the opposite side of the US -- that of the Lake Champlain bridge that connects Vermont with New York State. The bridge was closed on October 16, 2009, and it is uncertain whether it will even be able to reopen after the winter. It is a truss bridge and its design is similar to the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in August 2007, with 13 deaths resulting. The Lake Champlain bridge is a critical link. Its closure has resulted in commuters having to add 90 minutes to their commutes or to wait as much as three hours for a ferry to shuttle them across the lake. Small business owners are losing thousands of dollars a day and healthcare workers are having difficulty reaching the hospital that they work in.

The pain and suffering and economic and societal losses are graphically depicted in the article, Lake Champlain Bridge, in the Boston Globe. This is another example where deferred maintenance and inattention to the nation's transportation infrastructure has now yielded substantive losses. It also shows that the networks upon which our society and economy depend are more than just the ties that bind but they are the channels and routes of people and goods flows. Transportation planners and government officials should have realized the importance of the Lake Champlain bridge, whose removal has resulted in rerouting of thousands of commuters, who have had to add substantively to their commutes and/or switch their modes of transportation entirely.

A few brave souls are even now crossing Lake Champlain by kayaks!

Some quotes from the article that are haunting:

It is so much more than a bridge.

We feel like we're cut off from the world.

As for the stimulus funds, it is now being reported that over half of the jobs saved were in education; see the coverage in this article, Schools are where Stimulus Saved Jobs, in the New York Times. The funds were also used to shore up, temporarily, many public universities.

Educational institutions need to enhance their programs associated with network infrastructure.

As more and more schools try to develop "revenue-generation" programs, due to serious pending financial shortfalls, after the stimulus funds run out, as reported in today's New York Times, attention should be given to develop programs that truly help our country to rebuild its infrastructure from its educational institutions to its transportation systems, the financial system, manufacturing and logistical networks, healthcare, the Internet, as well as our energy networks. Stop-gap, "trendy" programs are just quick fixes, if they are fixes, at all.