Friday, March 7, 2014

A bridge falling into a lake? This is not something we want to think about in New Orleans (video)

One of the most common fears in the New Orleans area is the fear that a bridge will collapse while you're on it or that you'll lose control of your car and end up in the a bayou or lagoon. Given what I just read at the Huffington Post, the possibility that a bridge will collapse is not the far-fetched.

While I'm not afraid to drive across the lakes, rivers, and bayous around here, I'll admit that sometimes while driving across a bridge, the image of it falling out from beneath my car has crossed my mind on occasion. So, this picture of a bridge collapsing that links to an HP's article about infrastructure problems is disconcerting.

The article at HP says, "From roads and bridges to power plants and gas pipelines, American infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a pair of government reports released Thursday." The article says that scientists at a Department of Energy facility compiled the research. I used to work at a DOE facility, and I guarantee you that its scientists are not playing around. According to the report, they predict that if the country doesn't do something to address the vulnerable points of its infrastructure, then our nation will experience a "cascading system failure" over the next few decades resulting from destructive weather events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

It also talks a great deal about power outages, but it's bridge failures that draw the attention of people living around so much water. Nevertheless, the news that the nation's bridges are crumbling is nothing we haven't heard before, right? What makes this report different is its focus on how climate change will exacerbate that problem.

Here is a 2009 CBS story on our crumbling infrastructure. Not much has improved since then. Just this past November, President Obama visited New Orleans and talked about the need for the USA to repair its ports, highways, and bridges. He said that one in nine bridges are structurally deficient in the country.

I know that this information will scare quite a few people, and it should, but those who have fears about crossing water will be more afraid and that's no small number. Often I see in my blog stats people surfing to my post about the Causeway asking Google, "How can I get to New Orleans without crossing Lake Pontchartrain?" They mean the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge, of course. As its history page tells us, "The Causeway spans 24 miles and is the longest bridge over water in the world."

Unfortunately if you're looking for ways to get to New Orleans without crossing a body of water, you're out of luck unless you want to drive an extra hour or two. The city is almost an island, so somewhere along the way you're likely to cross a body of water to get to it.

But if you're coming from Mississippi, you can go through Hammond and drive around the lake taking I-55 down to Highway 51 to I-10 East. If you're coming from the Texas, you can take I-10 into the city and miss the Causeway, but you'll have to cross the Bonnet Carre Spillway over water and swamp. Coming from the Alabama and Florida, you'll have to drive all the way around Lake Pontchartrain, taking I-12 to Highway 51 to I-10.

Other than to offer alternate routes, all I can say is take a sedative, get someone else to drive, and good luck. But please remember this issue when it's time to vote for mayors, governors, congressional representatives, and the next president. If the candidate's not promoting plans to fix this mess, then the candidate's unprepared for the future.

All that said, there was a freak accident on the Causeway in 1964. A barge hit the bridge, tore off a chunk, and a Trailways bus plunged into 15 feet water. Six people died. I haven't seen a barge on Lake Pontchartrain since I moved back in 2007.

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