We know that over a thousand NY State bridges are "structurally deficient"—which makes reminders of our crappy infrastructure (example) incredibly alarming, like last night's 60 Minutes segment about how the government is failing everyone by not investing in infrastructure.
Business leaders, labor unions, governors, mayors, congressmen and presidents have complained about a lack of funding for years, but aside from a one time cash infusion from the stimulus program, nothing much has changed. There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem or where to get the massive amounts of money needed to fix it, just another example of political paralysis in Washington.
Tens of millions of American cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America—one out of every nine—is now considered to be structurally deficient.
One bridge that 60 Minutes zeroes in on is right next door in New Jersey—the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman explained to Steve Kroft why it's so important:
Joe Boardman: This is the Achilles heel that we have on the Northeast Corridor.
Steve Kroft: How much traffic goes over it every day?
Joe Boardman: It's almost 500 trains a day. It's the busiest bridge in the Western Hemisphere for train traffic, period.
Steve Kroft: And what kind of shape is it in?
Joe Boardman: It's safe, Steve, but it's not reliable. And it's getting less reliable. It's old. Its systems are breaking down. There's an inability to make it work on a regular, reliable basis.
Boardman says the Portal Bridge is based on a design from the 1840s and was already obsolete shortly after it was completed in 1910. It's a swing bridge that needs to be opened several times a week so barges can pass up and down the river. It takes about a half an hour. The problem is it fails to lock back into place on a regular basis.
Steve Kroft: And what kind of problems does that cause?
Joe Boardman: It causes trains to stack up on both sides. And actually, when a train stacks up here, it can stack up all the way down to Washington and all the way back up to Boston. This is a single point of failure. That's one of the biggest worries we have on this corridor is these single points of failure.
The NY Times reported recently, "Since the start of last year, the bridge has been blamed for about 250 delays on the rails, according to New Jersey Transit, which is its heaviest user."
The Northeast Corridor is the most profitable line on Amtrak; in fact, it helps keep other unprofitable lines afloat. Amtrak actually already has plans and a cost ($1 billion) to update the bridge, but no one in government has acted on it.
Former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Andy Hermann, told Kroft, "You're sitting there at these [House or Senate] committee meetings; they seem to agree with you. Yes, we have to make investments in infrastructure. Yes, we have to do these things. But then they come around and say, 'Well, where are we going to get the money?' And you sort of sit to yourself and say to yourself, 'Well, we elected you to figure that out.'"