Thousands of Bridges Across U.S. Are at Risk of Collapse

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 26 2013 12:18 PM

Thousands of Bridges Across the United States Are at Risk of Collapse

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Crews survey the scene of a bridge collapse on Interstate 5 on May 23 near Mt. Vernon, Washington

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

It happened again Saturday. A highway overpass in southeast Missouri collapsed Saturday after two freight trains collided, injuring seven people. Taking place mere days after an Interstate highway bridge 60 miles north of Seattle collapsed, it served as a reminder that, as the Associated Press points out, thousands of bridges across the country could be at risk of collapse from “one freak accident or mistake.” These structures, known as “fracture critical” in the industry, are kept standing by design and don’t have the redundant protections of modern bridges.  

Millions of drivers cross these “fracture critical” structures every day and they probably don’t even know it. Officials spend the little money they have for infrastructure on repairing bridges that are structurally deficient, but those aren’t the only ones at risk of collapse. Case in point, the bridge that collapsed Thursday was not structurally deficient. Washington state officials insist the bridge was inspected twice last year and it’s likely the bridge gave out because of the impact from a truck that was carrying an oversize load that was likely too tall for the structure, reports Reuters.

The collapse in Washington needs to serve as a wake-up call, says the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "This is a really significant event and we need to learn from it, not just in Washington but around the country," Debbie Hersman said, according to the AP.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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