Minnesota bridge disaster a grim reminder | VailDaily.com

Minnesota bridge disaster a grim reminder

Michael Robinson
Vail Valley Partnership

Last week, many of us were glued to the horrific pictures of the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis. At first, the reaction was “What about the victims, their families? What would I have done?”

As the tragic personal story melted into a fundamental one, the question was raised regarding infrastructure and its state, not just in Minnesota but also throughout the entire country. I was in Sacramento, Calif., that day, attending the American Chamber of Commerce Executives’ annual convention. The Minneapolis incident provided the fuel for the business leaders attending the convention to talk about their own infrastructure issues.

Success stories were shared, but most situations included an array of frustrating red tape and bureaucracy. And now the all-too-real reminder that these issues may, in fact, have very severe consequences.

We live and work in arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. Why do we need to bother ourselves with infrastructure issues? Because what happened in Minneapolis could very easily happen anywhere, including the Vail Valley.

In his weekly commentary, Tom Donohue, the president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote about this.

“Unless we do a better job of plugging up the holes (in the proverbial dam) we’re going to have more disasters like the I-35W bridge … or worse,” he wrote.

Thankfully, we live in a community where people do care about infrastructure. It does enable visitors to reach us, doesn’t it? A recent example of such support is the Partnership’s board supporting a recent mission by Eagle County officials to Washington, D.C., for the purpose of advocating for a new Eagle County Regional Airport interchange off Interstate 70. The benefits of this attention will alleviate the amount of traffic on U.S. Highway 6, already in tired condition, and allow for a smoother flow of traffic in the Eagle-Gypsum area. That’s a step.

At the convention in Sacramento, I heard speeches from a number of notables ” Steve Forbes, Henry Cisneros, Matt Dowd (chief campaign strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004) and Joel Kotkin.

Kotkin is the author of “The City: A Global History,” and spoke about the role infrastructure has played in the evolution of successful communities through time. He cited the Roman priorities of roads and aqueducts as an early example of how basic infrastructure leads to great civilizations. I left his talk with a much deeper understanding of the evolutionary flow of success in communities and cities in our history: Infrastructure begets commerce, commerce begets affluence, affluence begets culture, and culture begets awareness. Applications are wherever you turn, even here in the Vail Valley.

We all can comment on the problems, but the real issue is how to solve them. Donohue suggests, “We must leave every option on the table ” including spending infrastructure dollars more wisely, ensuring that states actually spend funds for the promised purpose, attracting more private investment, encouraging public-private partnerships, applying new technologies, creating a national infrastructure bank and raising user fees. The reasons we must rise to this challenge are compelling and clear ” to save lives, clean the air, create American jobs, trade around the world and maintain our prosperity amidst the fierce competition of a global economy. As to whom will lead the way … business must. And we will.”

The charge is already under way in our valley. The town of Vail has initiated a broad-based dialogue over the loading/delivery issue. The I-70 coalition is the type of public-private group Tom Donohue talks about, and this group just launched a new Web site to further the dialogue. So the good news is that the hard work that will shore up our infrastructure faults and gaps is being addressed in the Vail Valley. It is hard work, indeed, and business will lead the way.

If you’re interested in joining the Vail Valley Partnership’s efforts to make a difference, I invite you to join us Aug. 23 at the Vail Valley Business Forum. Learn first hand how we can do just that. After the forum, consider contributing to our organization’s efforts to make a difference in our business environment. To learn more, call 476-1000.

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