Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridge Tragedy - More to Come?

Unfortunate were the people killed, injured and terrified when the bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. Unfortunate also that this bridge collapse was not a “fluke” but one of many bridge collapses destined in the next decades. Unless, of course, community leaders heed the message from engineers that 74,000 bridges in the U.S. are considered in one or more ways to have elements of doubt about their safety. Estimated costs of repairs? Some experts say from $1.3-6 trillion dollars.

Since 1994, I have been writing and saying we must take care of our existing roadbeds before we spend millions of dollars to study new roads. Approximately $12 million has been spent or being spent ($1.6 million again being wasted on Rt. 29, a project dead before any study money was ever spent on it) in studies of new highways in the Peoria area, all being studied with no idea where the money will ever come to build them. $12 million, the estimated amount spent so far, would have paid for a lot of repair on local roads such as the vehicle damaging and community disgrace part of Knoxville and three miles of Rt. 40.

In a 2001 article by Omar Sofradzija, JS Transportation Reporter, before he said adieu to Peoria and the JS, quoted a group of transportation experts all saying that Peoria should fix our existing road and most importantly, fix our public school systems. Mr. Sofradzija also asked “Is the so-called Peoria to Chicago highway – only a slightly more direct road link – really worth the $800 million dollar cost to save a few minutes to get to Chicago?” A director of infrastructure at Northwestern University said “A Peoria to Chicago interstate highway is not going to do what you want it to do, transform Peoria into something it currently isn’t.” One expert said interstates have “no monopoly on generating business growth”.

In the spring of 2006, the City and County of Peoria hired internationally famed community building consultants, Ady International, to come in and study Peoria’s strengths and weaknesses to focus business attractions to our community. The study concluded “the areas assets are highway access, higher education opportunities and our culture. Our liabilities are crime, property taxes community appearance and workmen’s compensation.” Was he ever right about the State of Illinois labor favoring Workmen’s Compensation Committee! He was not paid to look into Peoria Public School District #150 which is a case history study of community liabilities in itself.

Yet on 7/09/06, the JSEB wrote “It’s not too late to look at sensible highway to Chicago.” Such a major decision should be dictated by engineering and common sense; (Was there ever a proven need for an expenditure of a billion dollars?), not who screams the loudest.” Hmmmmmm?? I believe the “highway to Chicago” promotion by the JSEB screamed to the rooftops that it must be built if Peoria was to survive. The JSEB conveniently overlooked the statement of Highway Engineer Chief Dale Risinger, now capably representing the area down at Springfield, who was quoted as saying “none of the proposed routes showed any outstanding economic benefit because jobs created along the corridor would be at the expense of existing businesses.” (Heart of Illinois highway feasibility study, August 1995).

Sorry, all you highway to Chicago promoters, the proposal was DOA as early as 1995 when my Guest Commentary was printed in full in the Daily Pantagraph under the title “Highway Proposal ought to be scrapped.” It was dead when USDOT changed their philosophy from: “mobility and efficiency” to the “feel and function” of a community. But the JSEB has never been known to stop beating dead horses or maligning those who do not agree with them.

Now with “Highway to Chicago, no, now ring road supporter, then Rt. 29 supporter and now back to ring road supporter, Ray LaHood leaving office; he did get his engineering contributors more money (1.6 million) to keep “studying” Rt.29, local Republican and some Democrats supporters will try to get Dave Leitch to replace him. Leitch will continue to berate those “free spending” Democrats in Springfield while he continues to seek every tax collecting and spending entitlement in the “politic-sphere”, especially those that favor big business in his district.

Oh yes, back to the 74,000 bridges, many in desperate need of repair. There hasn’t been much happening as there are no ribbon-cutting-photo-ops and dedication ceremonies in bridge and road repair. It often takes tragedies to boot our lawmakers into action.

Too bad.

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