Read the following names carefully:
- Julia Blackhawk
- Richard Chit
- Paul Eickstadt
- Sherry Engebretsen
- Peter Hausmann
- Patrick Holmes
- Greg Jolstad
- Vera Peck
- Christina Sacorafas
- Hana Sahal
- Sadiya Sahal
- Scott Sathers
- Artemio Trinidad-Mena
You probably don't recognize the names. I had to search pretty hard to find them.
These 13 people were on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, when it collapsed without warning. They all died. Sadiya Sahal, a 23-year-old Somali refugee, was driving with her toddler, Hana. Sahal, a nursing student, was five months pregnant, according to The New York Times. Christina Sacorafas, 45, was heading to a nearby church where she was about to teach a dance class. The stories go on and on.
Recently, I was thinking about that awful summer day when these 13 people died and 145 others were injured. I had flown back from CONEXPO/CON-AGG, boarded the train from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, and headed to the office. The rickety train was starting and stopping due to track maintenance, causing the short trip to take double the usual time. When I departed at my stop, I had to carefully maneuver the crumbling stairs at the train station while carrying my luggage. And sadly, many consider Chicago one of the better-maintained and well-run cities in the nation.
Just a few days earlier at CONEXPO in Las Vegas, someone asked Duane Wilder, president of Liebherr Construction Equipment, if his company benefited from the $787 billion Stimulus Bill Congress passed in 2009. “We appreciated it, but it didn't have the impact on the industry that we hoped it would,” Wilder said. “What we need is a long-term highway bill.”
He speculated correctly that the U.S. needs a fuel tax to pay for repairing our highway system. “But that's not going to happen,” he added, again correctly. With gasoline prices surging to over $4 per gallon, our politicians don't have the courage to enact a fuel tax with a presidential election cycle gearing up.
For several weeks after the 2007 accident, politicians postured before the television cameras and called for repairs to our aging bridges, roads, dams, and more. Since then there has been silence.
Months after the I-35W bridge collapse, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials released a report that said it would cost $140 billion to repair and modernize just the nation's 600,000 bridges. This does not include other highways, mass transit, dams, and other infrastructure.
The nation needs a long-term serious plan to make these repairs. Our industry has the perfect material and technology to make the nation's infrastructure strong again. Our associations have said all of the right things but must keep the pressure on. The construction community proved it could act swiftly when called upon. The bridge that fell was rebuilt and open to traffic just 13 months later. This issue must be put on the table for the 2012 election.
The 13 names above will remain in a special place on our website. Until the nation gets serious about its infrastructure, the people killed in Minneapolis will have died in vain.