The collapse of the Skagit bridge over I-90 has generated lots of discussion about the need to maintain our infrastructure, and about the need to raise tax revenue to do so.

Someone suggested we should blame anti-government terrorist Tim Eyman for the collapse, since lack of funds resulted in poor maintenance. Someone else said that the federal government is responsible for the interstates, so we can’t blame Eyman. Who’s correct?

I asked House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn (D – 41st LD).  She said the state is responsible for maintenance of the interstates. The US government used to give back 90% of its share of gas tax revenue in the form of transportation funding. Now it gives back much less, about 10%.

Clibborn told me that Eyman’s initiatives, in particular I-695 (which cut the yearly car tab fees), have made it much more difficult to fund road maintenance and other transportation projects.

But, said Clibborn, the Skagit bridge that collapsed was not in disrepair; it had passed an inspection in November of 2012. Its problem is that its construction was based on an obsolete truss design, from the 1950s, that made it susceptible to damage of the type that occurred when an oversize truck broke an overhead girder. There are hundreds of bridges of a similar design in the state.

Clibborn said that there are three hundred bridges more dangerous than the Skagit bridge, including the Columbia River Crossing bridge over I-5, between WA and OR; part of it was built in 1917 and is partly made of wood.  Presumably, the I-520 bridge over Lake Washington counts among the dangerous bridges; it is said to be susceptible collapse during an earthquake.

Clibborn says that many Republican legislators in Washington State “get” the need for transportation funding.  Legislators even in eastern Washington understand that farms and factories can’t function without an efficient transportation infrastructure.    But in the recent election, one of those reasonable Republicans was replaced with a much more conservative Republican, and now it’s harder to pass transportation bills.

We do need to document the deaths and suffering that result from Republican opposition to government and taxes, especially the 40,000+ people who die yearly due to inadequate medical care in the U.S.

Eyman lucked out this time, but I still think it’s fair to dedicate the bridge to him. Let’s be on the lookout for chances to blame Eyman and other government haters for disasters: someone dies on a poorly maintained road, a kid drops out of school because he didn’t get the support he needs,  an adult doesn’t get a job because he couldn’t afford college, a homeless person dies on the streets, a mentally ill person shoots someone, or someone gets lung disease from air pollution due to over-crowded roads and lack of public transportation.  For more on why we need government, see Countering anti-government propaganda: the case of the Freedom Foundation.

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge

See also Time to give the failed I-5 Skagit River span a new name: The Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge, which credits Wu Ming with coming up with the idea of naming the Skagit bridge after Eyman.