I don’t like bridges. Never have. Can’t really tell you why. I can climb a mountain, a ladder, or a tree (ok, could in my younger days) without fear, so I don’t think it’s just the height that bothers me. My children will tell you that the second floors of some buildings make me nauseous, but that is usually because I can feel movement, or vibrations through the floor. But give me a balcony, ledge, overhang, or bridge of any kind and something inside me goes crazy. Now this…the terrible bridge collapse in Minneapolis. More reason to fear.
Our driving rule for bridges has always been “both hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, don’t talk”. I do know where that idea came from- the sight of a tractor-trailer rig hanging over the side of Lake Texoma’s Roosevelt Bridge when I was a teenager. I’ve traveled thousands of miles all over the country with my husband. He’s teased me about my fear of bridges, but always followed “the rule”. My logic fails in light of yesterday’s tragedy. Even if you stay on the bridge, it might not stay in place.
How can something like this happen? How can something so big and solid collapse? Well, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention in the last couple of years, but my memory recalls several reports about the poor condition of bridges in my own state and throughout the country. Our bridges and other structures are OLD. I’ve seen some bridges in the East, especially in New York that look as though they were held together by nothing more than sheer determination. Many of them weren’t designed in the first place for the amount of traffic and weight they carry. Our own local truck drivers ignore weight warnings and restrictions on local overpasses and bridges. I’ve seen them do it!
And bridges are made by human beings. I’m not saying that workers don’t do their best, but people make mistakes. We’re foolish to rely on something just because it is big and impressive. That applies to old bridges and new overpasses and highway structures.
I remember driving over a “sailboat bridge” to take my children to school when they were little. When I worked in nearby Kingston I drove over Roosevelt Bridge each day. I never crossed over without thinking about what might happen. Now I suppose there are some routes I might not even take if I know ahead of time that I’ll be crossing an old bridge.
I felt sorry for the mayor this morning. While the news media is counting bodies and working on the enormity of the event, he made the point that this is a story about individual people, with families and friends and co-workers. Let’s not be blinded by the body count and forget that.
Let’s also see this as a cautionary tale, not just for those of us who already fear bridges, but for everyone who travels the highways. Our country is old and many of our structures are old. We’d better start taking a much closer look at them.