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How safe is that bridge you drove across today?

We are all driving on borrowed time. The collapse of an I-5 interstate bridge in Washington last week is only the most recent reminder that we all have a debt to pay. And it is growing larger by the hour. The U.S. built thousands of bridges as American grew to love the automobile. Many of those bridges have faithfully served, carrying millions of passengers every day. However, we have been negligent. Most bridges are built to last approximately 50 years. After that, they need significant repairs or complete replacement.

We don't want to spend the money. And while we were lucky that that I-5 bridge collapse did not produce any fatal car accidents as a result, we may not be so lucky the next time. There are tens of thousands of "structurally deficient" bridges like the I-5 and the I-35W Bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 and injuring 145. 

They were built to save money, no doubt winning the "lowest bid" contract, but they may extract a very high price in the end. On study finds more than 66,000 structurally deficient bridges in the country.

Even Texas, which is in one of the best positions in the U.S., rated 49th in the number of dangerous bridges, has concerns. In the Houston area, Harris County only has 1 percent or 34 structurally deficient bridges. Nothing to worry about? Well, maybe not. Those 34 bridges carry 378,736 vehicles per day over them.

This problem will become more expensive to fix every day and the bridges are all ageing, reaching the end of their service life, and yet many will remain in use for years to come. Whoever expects a bridge to collapse? The drivers who landed in the Skagit River may think twice the next time they cross a bridge.

Source: KIIITV.com, "Thousands of bridges at risk of freak collapse," Mike Baker and Joan Lowy, Associated Press, May 26, 2013

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