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How safe is the bridge you're crossing?

How safe is the bridge you're crossing? is a website that can tell you

February 11th, 2013 by Daryl Nelson of ConsumerAffairs in News

As consumers, there are just some things that you always assume are safe and well taken care of -- like airplanes, for example.

Each time that we sit in our seats and fasten our belts, most of us feel completely safe and assume all of the mechanics and inner workings of the plane have been well maintained.

It's just like when we step into our cars.

Don't we usually drive with a certain level of comfort and assume that car companies wouldn't release a product into the world without making sure every safety measure is met first and the vehicle is safe to drive?   

Look, we all know that both airplanes and cars crash, and sometimes the crash has everything to do with the way these items were built, as opposed to the accident being caused by the operator, but yet and still, most of us still have a very high amount of confidence when it comes to stepping into an aircraft or vehicle and many of us assume that we'll arrive to our destinations safely.

And when taking your vehicle across a bridge either to go to home, go to work or to transport your children to school, you also assume that bridge is safe to travel across and was properly built.

But according to construction expert Barry B. LePatner, author of  "Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix American's Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry" and "Too Big to Fall: America's Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward," America's bridges aren't as safe as some of us might think.

"We all are led to believe that the wonderful bridges in our nation are built to last," said LePatner in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.

"Unfortunately, that never was the case and the failure of our politicians to provide for needed maintenance of these structures - which are exposed to the wind, rain and snow and the vibrations of vehicles each day that are sometimes double what the bridge was designed for - has created a national problem that keeps growing with every year."

Dangerous bridges

To help consumers become more aware of this problem, LePatner created the website, which allows people to learn about dangerous bridges in their area and become educated on the issue of unsafe bridges and whether those bridges have been properly maintained.

The site also has a useful search function that allows you to plug in your city or zip code and see each bridge in your community, in terms of when it was built, how many vehicles travel on it each day and whether it's structurally deficient.

The data on each bridge is pulled from the Federal Highway Administration and state transportation agencies, says LePatner, and users have the ability to either pull up an interactive map of the bridge and its surrounding area or access a still photograph.

The website's map also uses certain color symbols that indicate where in your area there may be an unsafe bridge and the site makes it possible for the everyday citizen to stay abreast of these matters, LePatner explains.

"When politicians and the public hear the estimates for remediating our deteriorating infrastructure - which the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated to cost $2.2 trillion - their eyes glaze over and few can grasp the enormity of what is at stake," he says.

"The website seeks to bring that magnitude down to eye level so that citizens and communities can see how these dangerous bridges in their own neighborhoods can be addressed with their local politicians at the grass roots level."

I-35W collapse

LePatner often points to the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 that killed 13 and injured 145 people, and he says that after the devastating collapse he was very disappointed by the response from our nation's leaders.

"When the I-35W Bridge collapsed, both the State of Minnesota and the Federal Highway Administration knew that they were dealing with a bridge that was in a state of imminent collapse," said LePatner.

"An engineering analysis only one year earlier laid this all out clearly and called for as little as $11 million to address the weakness of the bridge. That recommendation was rejected by the state as a "budget buster."

"The federal government knew that around the nation there were nearly 8,000 bridges that were in the identical state (they had to know this since it was from the unpublished database of bridges on the website that I obtained the information in the website) as the I-35W but failed to take any steps to address these bridges to avoid future collapses," he said.

"Bridge repairs just aren't sexy enough," which is oftentimes why they don't get the proper funding for the necessary repairs, he said.

"Have you ever seen a photo in any newspaper in the nation showing a politician proudly heralding this commitment of funding to fix the underside of a bridge," he asks. "Yet you have seen many a photo with a politician standing next to a new road or another transportation project that helped a campaign contributor to celebrate his/her shopping center."

New features

Users of SaveOurBridges can expect new features very soon, as an iPhone and iPad app will be added in a few weeks, LePatner says.

He also explains that consumers should stay aware of bridge safety and by using his website; they should be able to accomplish this much easier than before.

"It is important that our citizens be informed and have a choice as to whether they wish to use bridges in serious danger of collapse or choose an alternate route. Now we all have a choice," he said.