Time to make the island’s bridges absolutely safe

The China Post news staff

There are more than 25,000 bridges in Taiwan. Of this number, more than 300 are deemed by experts as perilous and are in critical need of repairs. The urgency of this task was underlined recently by Typhoon Sinlaku’s visit to the island.

Sinlaku was not particularly dreadful in terms of the strength of its winds, but the torrential rains it brought caused widespread destruction and damage across Taiwan.

According to news reports, six bridges were damaged while the typhoon drenched the island. The Houfeng Bridge across the Tajia River in central Taiwan collapsed when the waters in the river surged due to the heavy rains. A press worker was reported killed while driving his car across the bridge. Two more cars, including a taxicab, plunged into the river.

This was not the first time a major bridge collapsed in the recent history of Taiwan. On the afternoon of August 27, 2000, some of the supports of the Kaoping Bridge, which connects the southern counties of Kaohsiung and Pingtung, collapsed suddenly. The bridge broke into the shape of the letter V, with 17 motor vehicles sliding down the bridge’s surface and a total of 30 people suffering injuries of various degrees. Fortunately, no one was killed. The incident aroused much concern about the safety of Taiwan’s bridges.

Anxiety about the safety of Taiwan’s bridges also arose after a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in the United States collapsed into the river and riverbanks beneath on August 1, 2007. That accident happened during the evening rush hour, and thirteen people were killed and 100 more were injured.

Deplorably, the government here has so far done little in the way of concrete action over these past few years to enhance the safety of bridges. The catastrophic collapse of the Houfeng Bridge again prompted calls in Taiwan to strengthen the island’s bridges. The Cabinet has promised to take remedial action in the wake of the recent bridge accidents.

“We’ll do a thorough inspection of those bridges and come up with a master plan for reconstruction,” said Vanessa Shih, director-general of the Government Information Office. She didn’t say who should be held responsible for the Houfeng Bridge accident.

We hope that Shih’s announcement was not just hot air. It is imperative that the authorities step up their efforts to monitor the safety of the island’s bridges. We believe both the officials of the current administration and those of the previous Chen Shui-bian government are responsible.

Eliminating all bridge deficiencies would be well-nigh impossible because of the cost. However, determining which bridges are particularly unsafe and should be rated unusable is a goal that can be achieved without too big a budget. Efforts to rebuild or strengthen bridges that are in danger of collapsing must be made to ensure the safety of those who use the bridges.