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New Jersey Bridge Collapses for Second Time in Four Years. Waterway Tainted, Schools Closed.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And sometimes, it’s also worth several hundred gallons of toxic chemicals.

The above bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey was built in 1873. It has now collapsed twice in the past four years, buckling under the weight of a train that, this time, was carrying highly flammable and carcinogenic vinyl chloride. Those contents are now in the Mantua Creek and local residents have been evacuated. 28 residents were treated for respiratory problems caused by the chemical vapors. Local schools have been shut down. Via Think Progress:

Gary Stevenson, a former Paulsboro fire chief whose two-year-old house is a matter of yards from the buckled bridge, said he has become accustomed to a “boom, boom, boom” noise as trains cross the span. “The exact section where they are at,” Stevenson said, pointing to Conrail workers surveying the damage. “Boom, boom. The exact section.” Conrail crews, “are there twice a week” as of late, Stevenson said. The bridge with an iron A frame dates to 1873 two years older than his grandmother’s house on whose ground Stevenson built his residence. … [Mayor John] Burzichelli observed “things could have been a lot worse.” No rail cars overturned. Burzichelli noted the affected cars were carrying coal not hazardous liquids.

This time the train’s contents were not coal so it appears that “a lot worse” is officially here. What’s more, countless imminent disasters such as this await communities across the country. In 2008, an infrastructure analysis by the Department of Transportation found that the average American bridge was 43 years old. 72,868 were deemed “structurally deficient” and 89,024 were labeled “functionally obsolete.”

The government’s lack of ability to agree on proper funding for infrastructure is a clear matter of public safet. Over the next decade infrastructure spending is expected to be $139 billion below what is needed. Add that to House Republican attempts to cut infrastructure spending by an additional $871 billion under the Ryan Budget and we have to admit that we’re living in a world where bridge collapses become the new norm.

After the first Paulsboro bridge collapse, Mayor Burzichelli reached out to state politicians for help to secure funding:

Paulsboro Mayor Burzichelli apparently reached out to Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for expedited repairs to the Mantua Creek bridge in 2009. Lautenberg introduced a bill in 2011 to encourage private investment in infrastructure and bolster federal funding. The bill, unfortunately, went nowhere.

As Think Progress notes, a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concludes that each dollar invested in infrastructure provides a return of two dollars to state economies. According to the study,

Federal highway grants to states appear to boost economic activity in the short and medium term. The short-term effects appear to be due largely to increases in aggregate demand. Medium-term effects apparently reflect the increased productive capacity brought by improved roads. Overall, each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state raises that state’s annual economic output by at least two dollars, a relatively large multiplier. […]
In other words, for each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state, that state’s GSP rises by at least two dollars.

Late last week, President Obama resurrected his $50 billion infrastructure proposal.


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