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Too Big to Fall

America's Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward

Barry B. LePatner

Publication Year: 2010

In August 2007, the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. Investigations following the tragedy revealed that it was not an unavoidable accident, but one that could have been prevented--and one that threatens to be repeated at many thousands of bridges located across the nation. Already more than 50 percent of our bridges are past their intended lifespan. Using the I-35W Bridge as a starting point, LePatner chronicles the problems that led to that catastrophe--poor bridge design, shoddy maintenance, ignored expert recommendations for repair, and misallocated funding--and then explores the responses to the tragedy, including the NTSB document which failed to report the full story to our nation.

From here LePatner evaluates what the I-35W Bridge collapse means for the country as a whole--outlining the possibility of a nationwide infrastructure breakdown. He exposes government failure on a national as well as state level, uncovering how our nation's transportation system prioritizes funding for new projects over maintenance funding for aging infrastructure. He explains the imperatives for why we must maintain an effective infrastructure system, and how it plays a central role in supporting both our nation's economic strength and our national security.

Written both for those who can effect change and for those who must demand it, Too Big to Fall presents an eye-opening critique of a bureaucratic system that has allowed political best interests to trump those of the American people.

Published by: University Press of New England


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pp. 2-5

Title Page

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pp. 6-7


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

During the two years of research and writing that made this book possible, I was aided by an astute group of individuals who helped me to sort through myriad issues that make our national infrastructure story so compelling. This book flowed out of Structural and Foundation Failures, which I wrote in the early 1980s on the many major building failures that captivated the nation ...

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Special Comments

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pp. xi-xii

The U.S. surface transportation network, unmatched by any other in the world, is the backbone of the nation’s economy. It has provided American businesses and consumers with enormous economic competitive advantages and access to markets over the course of the past century. ...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Few Americans would deny the importance of our nation’s infrastructure system. It’s how we get around. It’s necessary for communication. It’s how we get to our jobs each morning. It fosters the movement of people, goods, and ideas. The problem is that our infrastructure system is so prevalent that we often don’t even notice it’s there. ...

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pp. xix-xxviii

The history of the United States is integrally linked to the development of its transportation system. Our nation’s expansion was fueled by major infrastructure undertakings such as the Erie Canal and the first transcontinental railroad, which enabled commerce to transform sparsely settled areas and created successive waves of economic growth. ...

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1. A Tale of Two Bridges

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pp. 1-40

Any analysis of our nation’s infrastructure in the twenty-first century quickly becomes a classic tale of image versus reality. If we were to listen to the authorities placed in charge of our roads, bridges, and power and other systems critical to maintaining our domestic and global commerce, we would hear of the great need for investment in new projects ...

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2. Following the Money: Road and Bridge Funding and the Maintenance Deficit

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pp. 41-76

In the wake of the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, attention quickly focused on the straitened financial condition of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN/DOT). Within months, reports began to circulate about how political and financial considerations may have affected decisions made in the months leading up to the disaster. ...

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3. No Sense of Urgency: The Politics and Culture of Road and Bridge Maintenance

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pp. 77-100

America is always about the next new thing. We build beautifully. But building brings with it responsibility that extends long past the date when a project is completed and put into use. Our record of maintaining what we build is less than beautiful. Examples abound. One is the neglect of New York City’s bridges over several decades following World War II. ...

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4. Finding the Money

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pp. 101-132

America’s neglect of the transportation infrastructure it built at great expense in the twentieth century has not only left its roads and bridges in an inadequate condition for meeting the demands of the twenty-first. The neglect has also raised the cost of repairing and improving the country’s existing infrastructure to astronomical heights. ...

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5. The Technological Imperative

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pp. 133-156

For a country generally smitten with technology, it is ironic that when it comes to maintaining our nation’s costly infrastructure, technology is noticeably absent. As advanced technology in the form of computer-aided design software and increasingly sophisticated project management software is widely utilized in the construction of roads and bridges, ...

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6. The Way Forward

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pp. 157-186

Implicit in any understanding of the problems our nation faces with its ailing infrastructure is that we must make significant changes in how we fund, build, and manage these critical assets. It would be inconceivable for the nation to allocate the massive amounts of money needed to bring our roads, bridges, airports, power grid, and levees up to acceptable standards, ...


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pp. 187-224


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pp. 225-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781584659778
E-ISBN-10: 1584659777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780984497805

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2010