Passing the buck on bridges is disastrous

By Li Kuan-long 李坤隆  / 

Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - Page 8

Keelung’s Zhongshan pedestrian overpass (中山陸橋) collapsed on Saturday, resulting in one person suffering a concussion and temporary memory loss after falling from the bridge.

The overpass used to be an important road from Meiji-cho (明治町) to Takasago-cho (高砂町) when Keelung was part of Taihoku Prefecture during the Japanese colonial period. It was also the first pedestrian skywalk over a railway station.

Keelung has a total of 47 bridges that are in desperate need of repair and the Keelung City Government allocates a budget of at least NT$10 million (US$335,000) per year for repairing them.

However, none of these bridges are being repaired, which most people will surely find preposterous.

It will be next to impossible to solve problems like these in the short term because it is plain as day that in Taiwanese politics, the central government has no idea what it is doing and the local governments are incompetent.

This is not the first time Keelung City Government has demonstrated inefficiency when it comes to administrative affairs.

However, given that there is still no sign of them trying to do anything to improve the situation, perhaps the next mayor will do a better job.

However, it is very hard to have any hope considering the inaction of the central government.

When a bridge that a local government is in charge of collapses, it is of course difficult for that government to claim that it is not part of their responsibility.

When the budget that the local government is setting aside to repair these bridges is insufficient, those in charge should be held responsible.

However, the central government has done nothing in the way of directing local governments and this is tantamount to ignoring the problem.

Especially worthy of attention is in 2009, when Typhoon Morakot struck the south of the nation, more than 120 bridges were damaged, with 46 of them entirely broken. The central government promised that it would reconstruct the 46 bridges in the shortest time possible.

Yet how many have been fixed so far? Going back further to the 921 Earthquake of 1999, there are still disputes about reconstruction. This is one of the biggest problems with the central government. With superiors like this, how are local governments meant to do any better?

The nation has many dangerous bridges and it is fraught with natural disasters that pose huge challenges to safety. In the past, thorough checks would be performed before a natural disaster struck, but even bridges in urban areas are in danger.

If the central government keeps trying to pass responsibility for the problem on to local governments, with both sides trying to blame each other, the public becomes the biggest loser.

To fix this state of affairs, the central and local governments should work together to form a dedicated committee charged with inspecting all bridges.

The authorities should come up with a complete monitoring mechanism instead of waiting until an accident happens to start reflecting on the problems.

Li Kuan-long is a lecturer at the Kaohsiung Campus of Shih Chien University.

Translated by Drew Cameron