It’s hard to believe, but it has been one year since the I-35 bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed. I remember getting home from work and turning on the TV, and seeing the horrific sight of the broken concrete, pieces of steel, smoke and cars involved in the wreckage. We all take for granted that the roads, highways and bridges that we travel with our families every day are safe. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Across the United States, there are about 600,000 bridges. The Federal Highway Administration reported in 2006 that one quarter of the nation’s bridges were at risk. The American Society for Civil Engineers said in 2006 that it would cost nearly $10 billion every year for the next two decades to fix them.
Here in Indiana, there are thousands of bridges that are not currently meeting federal safety standards. According to an online CNN article, of the 18,408 bridges in the State of Indiana, 4,019 have been found to be deficient in some fashion. That is 22% of all of our state’s bridges. Unbelievably, one in every five bridges that we all travel across in Indiana do not meet current safety standards! This is an unfortunate by-product of misplaced priorities at the federal, state, and local level. Our elected officials are either spending our tax dollars on things less important, are too timid in collecting necessary taxes, or both. Literally, we build stadiums while our bridges crumble.
In the case of the Minnesota bridge collapse, the I-35 bridge had apparently been inspected and found to be deficient for years.
CNN has learned that bridge was rated “structurally deficient” 23 years ago, in 1985, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation confirmed it was rated “structurally deficient” again in 2007, just days after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed.
There are remedies under Indiana law for a person who is severely injured due to the negligent design or maintenance of roads or bridges. A person can be bring a claim against the governmental entity (state, city or county government) who was responsible for the proper design or upkeep of a road or bridge. However, strict “tort claim notice” requirements are involved, meaning that the applicable state or local governmental entity is entitled to receive a special notice of the claim well in advance of the normal Statute of Limitations. Also, these claims are very technical in nature and require expert engineering testimony to support exactly what the defective condition was and how it contributed to the accident. There are also statutory-imposed caps, or limits, on the amount an injured person can receive in Indiana against a state or local governmental entity.
Let’s all hope that this terrible tragedy serves as a wake-up call and that our government officials begin to put the safety of the public as the first priority.