RUINS OF EMPIRE

Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2011 by Ed

I lived in Southern Indiana for nearly seven years, during which I made the 90-minute trip to Louisville, KY any number of times when I needed big city amenities. It's a nice place. I always enjoyed the drive from Indiana across the Ohio River on one of the many bridges connecting the two states. One of the major routes into the city connects L-Ville and New Albany, Indiana via I-64/US 150. That is, it did until a few weeks ago when the Sherman Minton Bridge was declared structurally unsound and closed due to cracks in its main supports.

The bridge, named after a New Albany native who served in the Senate and on the U.S. Supreme Court, is a six-lane, two-deck design completed in 1962. As it nears its 50th birthday, the millions of cars, trucks, and trains that have crossed it have taken their toll. It is in the approximate condition we would expect of a major piece of infrastructure that was built during flush times and, the occasional re-paving notwithstanding, left to its own devices since.

Stories like this should be a great embarrassment to Americans, a tangible sign that our nation hit its high water mark in 1960 and has been sliding into disrepair ever since. We have numerous examples of major pieces of infrastructure literally crumbling around us – our power grid, the water and sewage systems in our major cities, our highways and bridges, and even our slowest-in-the-world internet/telecommunications network – and yet all anyone can do is whine about taxes, get hard-ons for austerity, and wonder why everything isn't repaired to their liking.

Federal funds for highway and bridge projects come from a gasoline surtax, one which hasn't been raised (not even to meet inflation) since Bill Clinton raised it an astonishing four cents in 1996. Since raising taxes is, you know, completely off the table, states have had to repair an aging and increasingly creaky highway network with a pool of money that, in real terms, is shrinking annually.

We are very much a country clinging to faded glory, and I don't think there is a better symbol of where we are right now than dilapidated Cold War era bridges. They're falling apart and all we can do is fill comment sections with bitching and moaning about big government, tax-and-spend libruls, and how the problem would already be solved if the government didn't spend so much on (insert thing that does not directly benefit the person using this rhetorical tactic). When we finally take time out from congratulating ourselves on being the #1 super-greatest country in the history of the world to recognize that, frankly, this place is turning into kind of a dump, it will already be too late.