In Some Ways, the World Gets Better

A little over a year ago, the Highway 35W bridge across the Mississippi River collapsed. I had just gotten home from work and was hanging out in the kitchen with my wife when Fox News started showing footage of the collapse. The first shock was that a bridge had collapsed; the second, that it was here in the Twin Cities; the third, that it was the Mississippi River bridge on Highway 35W, the area’s main north-south artery, a bridge we had all driven across countless times.

The relevant government agencies lost no time in letting a contract for a new bridge, and the successful bidders, Flatiron Constructors, FIGG Engineering and Manson Construction, quickly got to work on the project. (Disclosure: Flatiron is a client of my law firm, and we represented them on the bid protest that followed their selection.) The new bridge was scheduled to be completed by Christmas Eve, but it is already finished and open for traffic. Popular Mechanics headlines: “5 Engineering Lessons From the New, Reopened Minnesota Bridge.” It’s well worth reading; via InstaPundit.

Through my job, I’ve learned quite a bit about construction. The construction industry is a good example of how steady, incremental gains in knowledge have led to improvement in our standard of living. Thirty years ago, it was routine for major construction projects to be delivered late and over budget. Today, largely because of breakthroughs in project management techniques, that kind of result is relatively rare, and even the most complex projects are routinely delivered on time and on budget.

Vast improvements have also been made in construction materials and techniques. The result is that construction, one of the largest and most basic of industries, is consistently delivering more value with greater reliability and less cost, thereby improving all of our lives. The Popular Mechanics article on the I35 bridge explains some of the technical breakthroughs relating to bridge and road construction.

One more thought: the bridge that collapsed was a 1960s model with, apparently, a flawed design that manifested itself after decades of use. We Twin Cities residents couldn’t help noting that a little way up the river from the failed 35W bridge was the Stone Arch Bridge, built in 1883. It is still standing and will be for many years to come.

Let’s hope the new bridge lasts anywhere near as long.

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