A Bridge is Going to Collapse in Everett?

I just caught a news clip featuring a story that will appear later tonight on the 11 o’clock news about a failing bridge in Everett, MA. It brought to mind two thoughts: 1. following up on a post I made last week about much-needed global infrastructure spending, I thought that the bridge in Everett is one of thousands of required projects and 2., it reminded me that it is common human behavior to put things off until it’s too late –I am wondering who will become famous by dying in the next structural catastrophe.

As I mentioned before, I am not sure where the economy in the USA is headed, nor do I know if we will experience a worldwide slowdown in economic activity. But one thing of which I am fairly certain is that governments will spend on infrastructure, and that the companies involved in mining and creating the raw materials (such as steel and cement) and the companies involved in engineering and construction will benefit. Think about it: if the economy keeps going well, governments will use the expanding revenues to finance more growth; moreover, if the economy slows down, governments will choose their favorite standby method (public spending on public projects, even with borrowing) to keep people working.

The Central Artery project in Boston is a good example of this. They started the idea of this project in the middle of the slowdown in the early 1990’s – now as can be witnessed by that project, it doesn’t mean that the work that gets done will be of high quality – but it certainly will cost a lot! And who makes out in these deals? Besides the losers that pretend to work overtime you have the construction companies raking it in. think of the Central Artery (if you live in the Boston area) and multiply that by hundreds and you get the amount of required work across the 50 states. Then, add worldwide growth and you have trillions of dollars of required spending. Check out this five year chart of the largest mining company in the world – does this tell you anything about global construction spending (not a recommendation just an illustration)?

Yahoo Chart

On a corollary note, I must admit that I do think twice (or three times) about crossing over old bridges AND through new tunnels. I don’t want to be the latest “famous” person to awaken the public awareness as to the dangerous condition of our bridges and roads. You just have to know that these problems are known – and people don’t care about them until someone dies – same rules that govern what goes on the nightly news: if someone isn’t crying, lying or dying, then it’s not news. If you need a reminder of some of our recent bridge tragedies, look at this photo collection from a Yahoo search:

Bridge Images

If we didn’t waste all of our tax money on foolish things, we could rebuild this country and probably have a balanced budget (Let me make a one sentence plug here for term limits for all elected officials). What we will have instead is a super deficit (when global pressures drive up our interest rates, we’re all screwed, believe me) and new roads and bridges of which many will be poorly constructed despite the high cost.

The moral of the story? Avoid old bridges but consider the potential of the companies that build bridges.