American transportation officials today have nothing but difficult choices, LePatner writes.
The Williamsburg Bridge connecting Manhattan with Brooklyn over the East River, was deteriorating during the same time as the Minneapolis bridge.
But starting in 1987, Sam Schwartz, deputy commissioner and chief engineer of the New York City Department of Transportation, insisted on beginning needed repairs. He observed cracking metal plates and bridge pedestals and believed the bridge structure was a few inches from total collapse.
Repairs were costly and controversial. There was a furor when the bridge was closed for more than three months. Schwarz insisted.
LePatner counts Schwartz as a rare hero.
"The instances of heroic action by transportation officials in these times of shortchanged transportation budgets are few and far between, " LePatner writes.
Schwarz not only prevented a possible collapse, LePatner points out, but also saved the historic Williamsburg Bridge itself, and many more hundreds of millions that would have been needed to construct a new bridge.
While the public needs to spend more, it also needs to spend more wisely.
The construction industry is "the most inefficient industry in our nation," contributing to financial problems by charging $120 billion for "cost overruns" each year in highway construction, LePatner writes.
New "Public-Private Partnerships" could be beneficial. Two examples are the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road, where foreign investors gained the right to collect tolls for decades in exchange for initial cash payments to those governments.
But LePatner warns such arrangements can increase costs and tolls. Those projects also typically hire non-union employees, sparking opposition from public employee unions.
The American Trucking Association opposes public-private partnerships, especially after seeing steep cost increases imposed on drivers using the Indiana Toll Road.
State transportation agencies must return to hiring highly-trained engineers, who typically are skilled at diagnosing structural problems on roads and bridges.
"Visual inspection of bridges by minimally trained personnel who are not engineers remains the norm in state departments of transportation," LePatner writes.
Today, poor road conditions cost American motorists $54 billion a year in repairs, an average of $275 for each vehicle owner.
By making it more difficult and more costly to drive, poor bridges and roads also increase the costs every American pays for goods and services that rely on transportation networks.
"By inaction," the book concludes, "we are greatly increasing the risk of jeopardizing our national destiny and damaging the heritage we will leave for generations to come."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-3348-5164.