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A bridge to somewhere: We all need them safe
We can do little but trust in engineers and government officials to keep us safe

  Richard Amrhine's archive
  E-mail Richard Amrhine
Date published: 8/19/2007

By Richard Amrhine

AFEW DAYS before I started my first newspaper job, in Denton, Md., the town's old drawbridge fell into the Choptank River. A local schoolteacher who was driving across it one night found herself in a very precarious position.

She and her passenger were not seriously injured, but there was a huge fuss over the state's failure to replace such a decrepit bridge. The early 1900s two-lane span was the primary route across the Eastern Shore to the Delaware beaches and Denton's only connection to the rest of the world. It had been inspected, of course, and found to be deteriorating, but safe--until it fell into the river. Finding another way across the river added 10 to 20 miles to any trip.

I got quite a few stories out of that, from the investigation to the bridge's temporary reconstruction to the eventual construction of its replacement.

Most would agree that infrastructure is boring--until a bridge falls down. Who isn't drawn to pictures showing an interstate bridge that is supposed to go


the Mississippi River instead lying


the Mississippi River?

It's boring until it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, like the levees that were supposed to keep Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River out of New Orleans.

Around your house and my house, infrastructure is taken for granted until you find a wet spot on the ceiling after a rainstorm, or a different sort of wet spot that's directly beneath an upstairs commode.

It's human nature to take the roof over your head or the bridge you cross every day for granted. But if you don't heed the warnings or anticipate the inevitable, watch out. That wet spot on the ceiling is a heads-up: Do something before the roof--or the toilet--comes


the ceiling.

Maybe you do think about the aging infrastructure of your house, just as the government tries to do in your locality, state, and country. When a bridge is inspected, weak spots are patched or repaired, and judgment is made on when serious rehabilitation or replacement must take place. Such decisions are supposed to be made


a bridge collapses.

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