Top of Mind Thursday – March 28, 2024: A Bridge Too Far Gone

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This week, a large container ship hit a pier in Baltimore Harbor, totally demolishing the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Sadly, six people—all construction employees—perished in this event. While their deaths are tragic, this could have been a much larger disaster if the pilot for the ship had not sent out a Mayday signal that he’d lost control of the vessel and warned law enforcement to get people off of the bridge quickly. Emergency personnel stopped traffic, cleared the bridge as much as they could, and were quickly in position to help.

Beyond the loss of human life, the costs of this accident are expected to be in the billions. The debris needs to be removed and the bridge replaced. In the meantime, shipping up and down the East Coast is impacted, and thousands of people may be out of work.

What’s notable is how quickly state, local, and federal government officials moved to take the necessary actions to begin the recovery and repair process. Just down the road in the District of Columbia, Congress has spent months arguing about whether or not they should fund the federal government, and many members voted against the 2021 infrastructure bill that will likely pay for much of the reconstruction work. The NTSB (a federal agency) will investigate the cause of the accidents and make recommendations for the future.

It’s critical that we learn what happened in Baltimore and make the necessary upgrades to other structures so this doesn’t happen again. Over 200,000 bridges in the US—more than 35% of the total—are estimated to need major repair work. Of that number, 43,000 are believed to be in poor condition and structurally deficient. How many of those bridges could survive a collision like this one?

What critical deficiencies could be hiding in your infrastructure? What changes and upgrades do you need to make now—before disaster strikes and your business sinks?

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