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Sweeney: Dangerous Bridges No Laughing Matter

In response to a column in the Joliet Herald-News that likened the dangerous I-80 Bridge over the Des Plaines River in Joliet to a thrill ride that should charge admission, Local 150 President-Business Manager James M. Sweeney wrote the following response:

The safety of the roads and bridges we drive on with our families is no laughing matter, and someone should inform Herald News’ news editor Joe Hosey, whose “I-80 Giant Drop of Doom’s free” (Oct. 25) ranks among the most outrageous and tone-deaf editorials I have ever read.

Earlier this year, I discovered that state bridge inspectors gave the I-80 bridge over the Des Plaines River a sufficiency rating of 6 out of 100, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve driven across that bridge hundreds of times, unaware of the degradation that lay beneath the surface of the road. The state inspection report uses words like “critical” and “intolerable” in its assessment of the westbound bridge, which carries nearly 50,000 vehicles each and every day.


The derelict condition of this bridge was alarming enough that Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk joined our calls for immediate repair or closure of the bridge, and when billboards and news reports informed the public, the ensuing uproar made neglected infrastructure a statewide issue. The news reports that Hosey casually dismisses featured a bridge engineer who said she wouldn’t drive her car across this bridge. Neither will I, nor will scores of infrastructure professionals I know personally.

This is not a joke. In my career, I’ve never seen such a significant bridge in such precarious condition. Local authorities drafted recovery plans in the event that the bridge collapsed into the river below. IDOT immediately let a contract to replace the failed rocker bearings that hold the bridge up. A Band-Aid, but a necessary start.

I remember the day in 2007 when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minnesota, taking with it 13 souls and injuring more than 140. I’ve met the friends and families of people who died that day, seen the pictures of men and women who never came home. Hosey should watch the videos of the I-35 collapse and look at the faces of those who died. Perhaps he would realize the cost of interstate bridge failure is measured in lives lost, and perhaps he would think twice about calling it the “Giant Drop of Death” or suggesting that tickets should be sold to experience the thrill of driving across it.

Temporary fixes to the twin bridges are underway, and the long process of rebuilding them has begun. The outcry surrounding this bridge was a catalyst for the largest infrastructure investment in Illinois’ history, and motorists across Illinois should be thankful for that. For as long as this bridge remains in use, I pray that a deadly failure does not occur. With his name forever etched at the top of such a callous, misguided column that makes a joke out of a perilous situation, Joe Hosey ought to do the same.

– James M. Sweeney

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