Opinion: A bridge too far away

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.




7 responses to “Opinion: A bridge too far away”

  1. Clarice

    “China used more cement in three years than the US used in all of the last century,” according to Bill Gates research. CT should let China build the bridge. They probably can design, build, ship and install a new bridge in, well not 45 days but surely no more than 18 months. Workmanship guaranteed for 180 days, materials 90 days..

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    What a great column — rather short, but with a big, big point that we should all take seriously.

  3. One and Done

    Probably would look the same as a population density map, but the point is made either way. Economics is a funny thing, however. If the trends continue, people will just move away. Oops, they are already doing that.

  4. Oldtimer

    NY Post reports 175 bridge failures delayed Metro North trains last year with Norwalk failing 16 times and the Mianus River bridge in Greenwich failing 89 times, Milford 49 times Westport 20 times and Bridgeport once. There will be some competition for money to replace these bridges. New Haven RR probably anticipated this big expense when they made the deal with CT DOT.


  5. piberman

    Why wouldn’t we expect CT’s Governor to be responsible ? Isn’t it a CT bridge ? Curious that none of our local Legislators expressed any interest in having the bridge properly maintained. Even the Mayors of the affected towns were “out to lunch”. The bridge really is symptomatic of failing gov’t in CT. Our elected officials avoid taking any responsibility. Their energies focus on getting elected. Lucky us.,

  6. sofaman

    Funny, last week I just passed over the John Frost Bridge alluded to in the headline of this article in Arnhem, The Netherlands. Actually I passed over lots of bridges, road in trains, traveled in cars, went down countless bike paths. Never once saw as much as a pothole or a road in disrepair. Never once had to fear for my life on a bicycle.

    Why? Oh, maybe because the people realized that these things are essential to safe, efficient living, and are good for moving goods around.

    Budgets for essentials being tossed around as political fodder? Kicking the can down the road and let it become the next generation’s problem? How perfectly American. But don’t be the guy who suggests a national solution both in mass transportation and infrastructure. That’s sooooo “socialist”. Let’s just call everything that helps the common good “socialist” so we can keep our taxes “low” and get nothing in return.

  7. Sjur Soleng

    Keep our taxes low? Please share how you manage to do that.

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