Implications of the Minneapolis bridge collapse
By now, everyone has heard of the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed, and some of you are probably wondering if I have any special insights because of my having a masters in structural engineering.
Answer: no, not really. We've been talking about it at the office, sure, but we really don't have access to any of the structural reports, better photos, etc, so we have no idea specifically why the bridge collapsed.
In more general terms, the big story is the massive infrastructure deficit - the gap between needed and actual infrastructure investment - in North America right now. That's right, it's a serious problem in Canada, too. According to Canadian experts, Canada faces an infrastructure deficit of $74 billion, with $10 billion of that due to bridges. That's a significant amount of coin. Of course, it's much much worse in the States right now, so it's amazing that more structures haven't fallen.
That's part of the reason why I did my masters research in the field that I did. My research was under the umbrella of the ISIS Canada (Intelligent Sensing for Innovative Structures) Research Network. Their goal is to make our structures more sustainable and durable by incorporating lightweight, non-corrodible synthetic structural materials into buildings, either for new construction or for repair and refit(the "Innovative Structures" part), as well as using fibre-optic sensing systems and other high-tech computerized monitoring methods to ensure that our structures are performing as desired (the "Intelligent Sensing" part).
As for what the collapse means for us, as my boss put it, it means we'll be very busy with bridge inspections for the next little while. In typical political knee-jerk fashion, my boss got a call almost immediately after the collapse from the local municipality asking him how long until their bridges collapse and if we can inspect stuff for them. It's a good time for us business-wise, but it's sad that it takes a tragedy like this to get politicians on the move when the underlying problem is already so well known.