Skip to main content

Forget Christie; there's a real bridge problem that could ruin your day

By Walter W. Wise
updated 7:30 PM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
The George Washington Bridge is the vital connector between New York City and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The George Washington Bridge is the vital connector between New York City and Fort Lee, New Jersey.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Walter Wise says the attention focused on New Jersey's bridge scandal is misplaced
  • Wise: Our nation's bridge's are in dire need of repair
  • Wise: Political gamesmanship may lead to disaster with our infrastructure

Editor's note: Walter W. Wise is general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.

(CNN) -- State and federal investigations are underway in the case of lane closures that clogged traffic on the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey in August. Politicians and pundits are tossing around accusations of wrongdoing by employees of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority and the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The national press may feast on the political implications for New Jersey's Republican governor, but I think the episode is symptomatic of a larger, more troubling issue.

The deliberate political action resulted in life-threatening situations and delays that cost more than $21 million of economic losses to businesses and families. But the same situation faces millions of Americans every day because of the deterioration of our nation's infrastructure and political gridlock.

The George Washington Bridge is emblematic of thousands of other bridges nationwide -- it suffers from chronic traffic jams, has a long maintenance backlog and is showing signs of aging that you'd expect in an 83-year-old superstructure.

Walter W. Wise
Walter W. Wise

And while the bridge is undergoing an eight-year, billion-dollar renovation, it remains the busiest bridge in the world. It is a major connector of commercial industry and human capital in the Northeast that will require upkeep for decades to come.

In other words, the George Washington Bridge's condition is mirrored by other bridges coast to coast. American bridges are in bad shape, and there is a dire need for massive funding to shore them up or rebuild them.

As we know from major bridge collapses in Minneapolis in 2007 and in Washington State in May 2013, we're seeing more and more that merely driving across some bridges might mean that you are putting yourself at risk.

Rather than focusing only on the question of whether certain New Jersey politicians can "survive" the unfolding political scandal, we need to ask whether millions of Americans who cross the nation's bridges every day are going to survive their trips. We need to question why political battles at the congressional level have gummed up the funding for improving America's bridges.

This is a slow-motion scandal with far-ranging implications. Why is political gamesmanship stopping the critical investment in our country's future that labor, the Chamber of Commerce and the American public overwhelmingly support?

Bernstein's take on NJ bridge scandal
N.J. editor: 'We blew it' on Christie
Fmr. Christie aide pleads the fifth

This political gridlock is about national elected officials from both sides of the aisle who -- over the span of several presidential administrations -- have failed to make the upkeep and revitalization of our bridges a top priority.

The condition of U.S. bridges and our national infrastructure -- roads, sewers, manufacturing and energy facilities -- should be inseparable from the debate over how to end our economic malaise. The troubling state of our bridges, in particular, is a premium example of how political priorities have created gridlock that impact millions of Americans every day.

By ending political gridlock that is in the way of funding for major infrastructure projects, jobs can be created, lives can be saved and the future of transportation and commerce will be secured. Instead, bridges continue to decay and desperately needed maintenance projects are still dangerously backlogged.

Consider this:

-- The United States, including Puerto Rico, is home to more than 66,700 structurally deficient bridges and 84,748 functionally obsolete bridges, the Federal Highway Administration reports.

-- Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated one out of nine U.S. bridges as structurally deficient, and also found that the average age of the nation's 607,380 bridges is 42 years.

As a journeyman iron worker and representative of more than 100,000 workers -- including thousands of bridge workers -- I read about the George Washington Bridge-related political squabbling taking place now in New Jersey and interpret it differently.

As I see it, the real scandal here is in the question of how a critically vital piece of America's infrastructure -- the bridges that are our lifelines to jobs, hospitals and economic development -- have been neglected for so long.

Where is the outrage over the political gamesmanship at the congressional level that has caused desperately needed work on American bridges to grind to a halt?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Walter W. Wise.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT