One needs to understand only the basic tenants of entropy (a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder) to fully comprehend that once a physical structure is completed, the real and ongoing work begins: Constant maintenance and repair with a keen eye toward any barely observable flaws that might, at a distant date, cause a component to fail and the whole to unravel.




The automobile industry understands this very well. We are sold a shiny new vehicle that begins to fall apart as it leaves the factory. While a car dealer tries to make a decent profit on the sale of the car the real money is in the maintenance and repairs necessary to keep it on the road and able, at least some of the time, to make it back to the dealership.




Under the guidance and insistence of President Eisenhower the present Interstate Highway system was developed, based mainly on "Ike's" favorable impression of the German autobahns that facilitated the movement of fighting troops and supplies towards the end of the World War II in Europe. Many thousands of bridges were required to span gorges and rivers, though not much thought or money was given to repair this infrastructure as it aged and began to disintegrate, as does anything we make and use.




The recent tragedy of the Minneapolis bridge collapse is but the latest infrastructure failure to slap us in the face. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 that also adversely affected millions of residents in New Jersey, Baltimore, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio alerted the nation to the fact that we have an electrical grid fitting of a Third World country. It took only a tree touching a power line in Ohio to shut down the Northeast for days, leaving thousands trapped in elevators and tunnels as the air conditioning and lighting plunged them into suffocating darkness.




It seems that only our government has forgotten the destruction of Katrina, which back doored its wrath into New Orleans by way of breached canals, which were poorly constructed and ill maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Money to upgrade that city's defenses was repeatedly denied and the result was entirely predictable and, unfortunately, came to pass as we watched it on TV.




Recently an 83-year-old steam pipe exploded in New York City. People screamed and ran for cover. Many thought that they were being attacked by terrorists and they were right. The terrorist organization responsible was al-neglect, as reflected by our elected officials over many decades. Just as we build bridges, then whistle as we walk on down the road, we build structures like libraries with little thought of what it takes to keep them open and of service.




One-quarter of the nation's bridges, including the one in Minneapolis, have been classified as functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. One-third of major roads are judged by federal transportation officials to be in poor or mediocre condition. The latest cost estimate of repairing our roads and bridges is close to a half trillion dollars.




As the voters begin to clamor, especially those who drive over old bridges and bumpy roads, there will be groundswell demand to upgrade our entire transportation infrastructure. If we are going to launch a national effort to do this, then I suggest that we do it right. this I mean not only repaving, replacing and repairing, but to install a nation-wide high-speed train system as currently enjoyed in Japan, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Russia.




It is time to fix our own house, ensuring that it will serve us well into the future. While we are at it, let's make the house energy efficient, easy to clean, repair and maintain. Let's also add the latest in public transportation while we are at it to reduce the wear and tear on our roads as well as our dependence on Big Oil, for we all should know by now where that leads.




Lance was last seen hopping a boxcar for a quick lift to Medford, though a locomotive didn't hook up to it for three days and was headed south. You may give him some timing advice at lance@journalist.com.