Authored by Olympic Steel

A member of our leadership team tells a story about returning from one of our facilities to her hometown a few years ago. It was a 6-hour drive. About 3-hours in, with heavy traffic and cement barriers lining the roadway, she hit a massive pothole. The impact immediately flattened her tire and damaged the wheel rim beyond repair. With some difficulty, she managed to safely navigate through the “cattle chute” to the side of the road. As she sat waiting for roadside assistance, several other vehicles joined her, having encountered the same fate.

Thankfully, no one lost control of their vehicle that day, but the potential for a deadly crash was there. Unfortunately, many of us have had similar experiences, costing time and money and putting our lives at risk.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), U.S. infrastructure has been rated a C- due to its “strong risk of failure.” We observed this risk turned reality with the collapse of Minnesota’s third busiest bridge and the deaths of 13 people in 2007.

The Minnesota bridge collapse is an extreme example. While that was roughly 13 years ago, we’re still faced with smaller, though no less dangerous, threats to our safety nearly every time we hit the road.

According to the ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, “there are more than 617,000 bridges across the United States. Currently, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation’s bridges, are considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in ‘poor’ condition.”

ASCE also estimates that “178 million trips are taken across these structurally deficient bridges every day.” They further note that “43% of our public roadways (are) in poor or mediocre condition.” While this number has stagnated over the past several years, the ASCE cites a rise in vehicle miles traveled on roads in “poor” condition, moving from 15% to over 17% in the past decade.

The ASCE warns that “at the current rate of investment, it will take until 2071 to make all of the (bridge) repairs that are currently necessary.” Meanwhile, additional deterioration is inevitable.

With pandemic protocols lifting, many of us are resuming our daily commutes and planning vacations with friends and family. Now’s the time to push our government to invest in public safety by initiating much-needed work to our roadways, bridges, ports, power grids and public drinking water delivery systems, along with other essential infrastructure systems.

As you hit the road in the coming weeks, take pictures of the hazards you encounter – the potholes, rusting structures, deteriorating foundations, outdated technologies and examples of unsafe or inefficient transportation systems – and post them to social media. Let our government leaders know the public safety risk is real. And, don’t forget to add #LetsBuildNow – to keep America moving and keep ourselves and those we love safe.

Safety is a Core Value and our top priority at Olympic Steel. We think it should be a top priority for our nation, as well.