NORWALK, Conn. — In 1945, during the waning days of the Second World War, a 6,400-foot railway bridge that crossed the Rhine was blown up by a retreating German army. Forty-five days later, after 12-hour shifts of 10 days on, two off, a replacement bridge was built.
The new Wessel bridge stood 75 feet over the water, and was designed to carry heavy freight trains over a river that ranged to up to 30 feet deep with a steady, swift, 11 mph current, becoming, according to the Wiki, the first fixed bridge to be built over the Rhine by any army engineer since the days of Caesar.
Hopefully, we will not have to wait as long for the State of Connecticut to figure out years of planning and construction is unacceptable for replacing the 562-foot Norwalk River railroad bridge.
In the global scheme of things, a 118-year old bridge isn’t that old. There are bridges in Europe that are much, much older. It could be true that parts of
the swing bridge are simply worn out. But, in the end, this bridge has served the Northeast Corridor for more than a century, a testament to the engineering and materials of bridge design used by those who labored without computers and cad programs to build the infrastructure of a growing country.
The Norwalk River railroad bridge is critical to the economy of the Northeast Corridor. It is essential to the overall U.S. economy. To understand why, this incredible map shows that half of the U.S. GDP can be split between the densely populated cities and the rest of the country. The largest orange splotch is, of course, the Northeast Corridor.
It wasn’t that long ago that we invested in our infrastructure because there was none. The rails, roads and bridges that we take for granted today were built to ensure a future economy that enabled people, goods and services to move throughout the country. It is the legacy of past generations to our generation.
Yet our generation has lost sight of what matters. We spend billions on programs that force air travelers to remove their shoes instead of billions on the maintenance of our roads and bridges. We send our armies overseas to build new infrastructure instead of allocating those resources to the most vulnerable infrastructure stateside.
We need to start thinking about our legacy to the next generation of Americans. No one will remember 118 years from now who said what in the 24-hour news cycle. The bridges we have will either still be standing, much like the bridges of Caesar, or long forgotten.
But in order to build new, state-of-the-art bridges, we need to shift our priorities on keeping our Northeastern economy going. Most of the rest of the country depends on it.