Deadly bridge collapse raises concerns and reminds us about the importance of updating infrastructure

A major highway bridge in Genoa, Italy collapsed on August 14, killing at least 35 people as well as becoming a disastrous reminder about the urgency for updating infrastructure. While residents throughout California consider the fate of the state’s gas tax, this horrible accident should serve as a cautionary tale.

What happened in Italy

A10 is the highway that serves the Morandi Bridge. It is a major route between Italy and France that connects the city of Genoa with the nearby airport and French coastal cities to the west. Heavy with traffic during peak tourist season on a Tuesday at noon, the highway bridge fell by as much as 148 feet. Approximately three dozen cars and three trucks tumbled down with it, according to Angelo Borrelli, chief of the Civil Protection Department.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte traveled to the scene of the disaster. The office of the city’s public prosecutor and Italy’s federal authorities announced the opening of a criminal inquiry, examining whether the collapse was due to negligence.
Many of that region’s viaducts, galleries and bridges were built during the 1950s and 1960s. The 51-year-old Morandi Bridge was part of the aging infrastructure.
According to The New York Times, Danilo Toninelli, the national transportation minister, said that the government had been “given a mandate” to repair infrastructure, including bridges.
“Many need ordinary maintenance,” he told the state broadcaster, RAI News, “to avoid tragedies of this kind.”

Edoardo Rixi, the deputy transportation minister, said that the bridge had shown some “signs of problems” in the past, but did not elaborate further. The stretch of the road now damaged is estimated be long as 330 feet and Rixi stated the entire bridge would be demolished, “with serious repercussions on traffic, and problems for citizens and companies.”

California’s need for updating infrastructure

Just like bridges in Italy, many of California’s bridges were built in the 1950s. Some are even decades older. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave the country a cumulative infrastructure grade of D+. In California, one of the worst states in the nation, 5.5 percent of bridges are rated structurally deficient. A total of 25 percent of California bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards and 17 percent are functionally obsolete.

In 2015, Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency wrote, “Doing nothing further jeopardizes the reliability of the state’s trillion-dollar transportation system, the safety of the traveling public and the state’s continued economic expansion.”

Public safety depends on updating infrastructure

California lacks adequate funds to address these critical infrastructure deficiencies. Maintenance wasn’t just deferred in Italy. In California, there is a $130 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. Until Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, the gas tax hadn’t been raised in 23 years. Now SB 1 raises about $5.2 billion a year, half of which will go toward state-maintained transportation infrastructure and the other half will go to local roads, transit agencies and an expansion of the state’s growing network of pedestrian and cycle routes.

All too often our society is reactionary. When bridges collapse, dams break or transit accidents occur due to aging systems, there is public outcry to fix what is broken. The fact is that it’s important to make repairs and upgrades before tragedy strikes. The funds from SB 1 can help.

Proposition 6 is officially on the November ballot. The measure has been brought forth in an attempt to repeal SB 1. Without dedicate monies for repairs, it will greatly impact safety as well as progress toward updating infrastructure. Voters wondering where the SB 1 funds go only need to take a look at the map to see the improvements in their area.

It’s important to vote NO on Prop 6 because SB 1 finally allows progress to be made on infrastructure that has been pushed to the back burner again and again. If we really are seeking to better and safer tomorrow, SB 1 funds are a vital investment.