Quite often, the titular Mr./Ms. Anonymous responding to a story or blog on enr.com tends to be one who uses anonymity to express political opinions not just freely, but often abusively. Well, that’s the Internet age and so be it.

However, there are also the ones who offer valid, non-partisan-bashing and constructive (pun intended) critiques.

I want to thank the  Anonymous or two who pointed out  in response to my last two blogs that the debate over how to deal with our decaying infrastructure has a not-quite-appropriate poster child—the I-35W bridge collapse.

He/she emphasizes that the bridge did not collapse due to neglect per se, but through failure of engineers to follow certain codes and standards, to design sufficiently thick gusset plates, or otherwise address the non-redundant nature of the bridge.

I agree, but would offer that in a way, neglect still occurred—neglect to address these issues pro-actively, or to feel urgency to take significant action, even though the bridge in fact had been the subject of much analysis.

Sort of like Michael Jackson having a doctor hovering over him, but dying anyway—*because* of that doctor's bad decisions.

It may not be in absolute fact the best poster child for our neglected infrastructure, but nevertheless it did wake up the public to what does happen when our infrastructure does fail due to lack of proper maintenance or action.

The new Lake Champlain bridge, which has just opened, is a happier example. I met George Christian, an engineer with AECOM, a year ago. He was previously with the New York State Dept. of Transportation. Mr. Christian was a key player in the decision to shut the old bridge down, and his account of the process was fascinating.

Everyone knew it would not be an easy decision. But with the Minneapolis bridge collapse still burning in the engineering world’s memory, it was probably much easier than before August, 2007.

This year, the Sherman Minton bridge was shut down after discovery of cracks, and the repairs began in fall.

One of the reasons ENR reporters stay here is because we truly respect the process of building (and maintaining) infrastructure. Whatever the factors, the collapse of the I-35W bridge awoke in the public a greater awareness (if regrettably temporal) of how important the issue is.

And it seems to have reminded the industry that it’s better to face public criticism by shutting down a piece of infrastructure, or making other unpopular decisions, rather than allow an unacceptable risk of another tragedy.

Reminds me of the ASCE oath I heard recited at an event years ago, along with the rings:


"…conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity…

 …When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good…”

 “In the performance of duty and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.”

Thanks for all that you do, engineers and contractors, and let’s hope 2012 brings more opportunities to keep doing it.