Ed Koch: The Williamsburg Bridge

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In 1988, during my last term in office, traffic commissioner Ross Sandler called me to say that he had just concluded a meeting with a group of bridge experts. These experts had concluded that the Williamsburg Bridge was unsafe, required immediate repairs and, until repaired, should be shut down.

In such an emergency, no mayor could do otherwise than order the bridge closed during the three months it took to make repairs, which is what I did. The closing caused an enormous financial loss to businesses on both sides of the East River and great inconvenience to drivers and subway riders. The bridge was repaired, and the final report, as I recall, made it clear we did not have to close the bridge to make the repairs—they could have been completed while the bridge was open. But, in my mind, safety came first.

I was very interested to learn that when the Williamsburg Bridge was completed in 1903, it had four times the strength needed to carry horse-drawn vehicles, cars, pedestrians and, later, subway trains. Even more amazing, when the Williamsburg Bridge was repaired after 75 years of use, it was still 3.75 times stronger than needed to carry the traffic that rolled across it, suffering after all those years, a very minor loss in strength.

Today, bridges are built with only twice the needed strength. Of course, all bridges—old or new—need constant attention and repair. When the lives of those using the bridge are ever possibly at risk, a mayor has no option but to close such a bridge down, no matter how great the inconvenience.

An August 3 New York Times article by Russ Buettner and Sewell Chan stated, “During the last 20 years, the city has sought to improve the condition of its aging bridges. Since Mayor Edward I. Koch began a major rehabilitation program after the emergency closing of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1988, every mayor has pledged to maintain the effort.” Few cities duplicate the long-term planning of New York City.

The Highway Trust Fund should provide funding to localities that need to make necessary repairs and replacements. The Highway Trust Fund receives for each penny of tax imposed on gasoline, about a billion dollars a year. Even without tax increases, the cost of gasoline continues to rise. I believe imposing a new 25-cent tax for the expedited repair of our highways and bridges is warranted.

Every time OPEC unilaterally wants to, it raises the cost of gasoline by increasing the cost of a barrel of oil, which this past week, reached $78 a barrel. Congress will be sending legislation  to the president allowing the Department of Justice to institute a lawsuit against OPEC alleging the latter is engaged in violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust law. The president has threatened to veto the bill. Everyone should email the White House at comments@whitehouse.gov urging that he not use his veto and email their congressmen and senators, urging an override of any such veto. Every presidential candidate, Democrat and Republican, should be asked if they would sign such legislation if they were to be elected, and will they direct the Department of Justice to bring the lawsuit.

The presidential debates are becoming boring. It’s not the fault of the candidates. They are doing their best. It’s simply that the presidential campaign has been going on too long.

The presidential election will take place in November of 2008, and here we are—with still 15 months to go—in the midst of a heated campaign. The enormous sums of money being raised by the various candidates and the parties, primarily for TV commercials, would not be required if we adopted the five-week election period used by the British.

In the U.K., no candidate is permitted to spend a single pound before the election period starts. Tens of millions in campaign funds would not be needed and would not be spent if we did the same in America. The public would, I believe, support a constitutional amendment limiting the amount any candidate for president and vice president can spend, including their own money. Under current law, which results from a U.S. Supreme Court decision, there are no spending limits on candidates who reject public funding. Limiting all spending and shortening the campaign period preceding the election, including primaries and general election, would largely eliminate the influence of special interest money and would also keep the voters interested in the election.

Hanoi Jane (Jane Fonda) has been joined by Sean Penn, who will now represent the males in our country who knowingly support the enemies of the U.S. This past week, Sean Penn accompanied Hugo Chavez on a political tour of Venezuela lauded by the Venezuelan dictator, and by his presence helping Chavez extol himself and demean America. Their obituaries will remember them as betrayers of America. 

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