For nearly 20 years, leaders in the logistics community have been wondering just what it would take to convince politicians that America faces an infrastructure crisis.
Now we have the answer: Minneapolis.
Too often, it takes tragedy to spur politicians into action. And on Aug. 1, that's precisely what we got. The 40-year-old I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 12 (at last count) and injuring 100. We can only hope that the public outcry will force state and federal leaders to take long-overdue steps to remediate the problem.
But it didn't have to come to this, the twisted wreckage, the loss of life, the heartache. And it likely wouldn't have if politicians had only listened to—and heeded—the warnings.
In the logistics community at least, the sorry state of the nation's roads and bridges has been well known for years. Those of us in the business press have heard endless accounts of the nation's deteriorating transportation infrastructure—buckling pavement, cavernous potholes, and, of course, crumbling bridges. We knew that nearly 160,000 bridges had been identified as needing repair or replacement.We knew that of the 40,000 highway fatalities that occur each year, as many as one-third can be attributed to structural deficiencies in the roadways.
We've reported on what we heard as well, developing news stories, feature articles, and special reports on the infrastructure crisis. True, our coverage tended to focus on the business angle, the implications for those engaged in the business of moving freight. Still, the story was there for consumer publications as well. Yet many chose to ignore it.
As for why, we can only speculate. Maybe it wasn't sexy enough. Maybe it just seemed less compelling than the dalliances of over-privileged (and over-served at the bar) teenagers in Hollywood.
Not anymore. Now, the once-boring highway maintenance and repair story has all the "right" stuff: shattered glass, twisted steel, crumpled vehicles and, of course, death, loss, and grieving survivors. To no one's surprise, the mainstream media have jumped all over the bridge collapse, which will likely turn out to be the biggest story of the summer, if not the year. It is not necessarily too little, but for those who lost their lives, it is, sadly, too late.
That's not to suggest that the mainstream press ignores transportation issues altogether. Just two days before the Minneapolis tragedy, The New York Times published an editorial in which it weighed in on the truck driver hours-of-service debate. In the opinion piece, the editorial board of the so-called "newspaper of record" for the country proved that it really didn't have a clue about the transportation industry. Among other things, it claimed that the Bush administration's attempt to reverse the court order capping the hours of consecutive driving at 10, rather than the proposed 11, was simply an attempt to pad the profits of trucking companies at the expense of motorists' safety. This is not the first time that a mainstream media outlet has offered up an uninformed opinion on a transportation issue—and it's unlikely to be the last. The trouble is, pronouncements like these often go unchallenged. Worse yet, they are read and accepted as fact by the general public and the politicians for whom they vote.
It's clear enough that the business community— and, in particular, the logistics business community—needs to do a better job of setting the record straight. We can start by challenging these assertions and shooting back with hard, cold facts.