Some problems are very clear to see. Such as the devastation caused by a hurricane. You’ve probably watched it happen live on the Weather Channel.
Another example is the destruction from a tornado. Images of a landscape littered with blown-off roofs and downed wires graphically reveal the wreckage.
Wildfires and floods leave similar carnage in their wake. Frightening scenes of people running for their lives or climbing onto rooftops give us chills.
But there are other problems causing serious issues for people that are not quite as obvious. I’m talking about the slow yet steady decline of the nation’s infrastructure. It occurs everywhere. But we usually don’t see it until it becomes an emergency.
Dilemma by Land and by Sea
An example of a major infrastructure crisis occurred in Memphis late last month. A structural crack in one of the bridge’s two 900-foot, horizontal steel beams on Interstate 40 caused its closure.
It was discovered during a routine inspection. An engineer says it could take two months to repair. About 45,000 vehicles normally drive across the bridge daily. One-fourth of that is truck traffic.
Now, cars and trucks being rerouted due to a bridge closure is a hassle for drivers. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it an emergency.
However, this headache is much bigger. The Hernando de Soto Bridge is also a major artery for Mississippi River traffic between Memphis and Arkansas.
Two Months to Fix?
The issue is the huge disruption it is causing in the supply chain. Including the food supply chain.
Shortly after the closure, there were as many as 44 vessels with more than 700 barges waiting to travel the river in either direction.
I-40 is a major transcontinental transportation route. The NBC-TV affiliate in Memphis called it a “vital piece of America’s infrastructure for moving traffic and freight around the country.”
Paul Degges is the Tennessee Department of Transportation chief engineer. He said, “It will be a number of weeks at least until we can have a repair in place. Probably six to eight weeks minimum.”
Just One of Many Issues
The Memphis bridge was designed in the Sixties. Degges believes the crack was caused by either fatigue or a welding error. Some road traffic was diverted to I-55. There it crosses a bridge nearly a quarter of a century older.
If this problem were an isolated one, perhaps we wouldn’t need to worry much. Stuff happens, right? But the truth is, the country’s aging infrastructure is showing cracks – literal and figurative – all over.
Paul Lewis is vice president of policy and finance at a Washington, D.C. think tank. He said, “This kind of fracture is rare. But it goes to show how we have a lot of bridges that are old. And it’s going to take a lot of funding and resources to bring them up to a state of good repair.”
Steve Cohen is a U.S. Representative in Tennessee. He said, “It’s fortunate that routine inspection averted a potential disaster. But the state of our crumbling infrastructure is deeply troubling.”
Recently President Joe Biden proposed a $1.7 trillion infrastructure spending plan. The money would modernize bridges, highways, roads and main streets in need of repairs.
Food Prices Expected to Rise
Within 24 hours of the crack’s discovery, economists were talking about how Americans would be affected.
The food industry was expected to start moving some of its shipments from boats and barges to the rails and trucks.
In addition to the delays of getting food and other supplies to market, they predicted the prices of soy and corn would increase.
The Arkansas Trucking Association estimated the closure would cost the industry at least $2.4 million per day. And there’s no doubt those costs will be passed along to consumers.
Potential ‘Catastrophic’ Event
The Arkansas Department of Transportation director said the bridge damage could have led to a “catastrophic” event had it not been discovered. The agency fired the employee responsible for inspecting the bridge the past two years.
That’s like shutting a barn door after the horses escape. Had the crack been discovered two years ago, the bridge would still have needed repairs. And that would have slowed down the supply chain.
The fact of the matter is, our country’s infrastructure problem is widespread. And it will take a lot more than $1.7 trillion to fix it.
As self-sufficient patriots, we need to put ourselves in a position where supply chain issues won’t affect us. Regardless of whether they are caused by pandemics, extreme weather or aging infrastructure.
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