Arrogance? Unprofessionalism? Or just being stupid?

By Nathan Barton

This was shared by an associate – the location and state and circumstances have been “sanitized” to avoid ramping up.  Anyone with a little bit of search skill can probably find out the omitted details.


On a bad early spring day in April, along a fairly empty stretch of an interstate highway out in the Great Plains, something happened in an 85,000-pound semi-truck rolling with the wind at 75 mph.  We will not know (until Judgment, at least) what exactly happened.  The semi plowed into a set of four pylons supporting an overpass, breaking two in half, and nearly severing a third.  Both occupants of the truck died instantly.

Very quickly, the overpass (bridge) was determined to be unsafe – indeed, in danger of falling down, thus blocking a major freeway with tens of thousands of vehicles a day. The state department of transportion (DOT) responded quickly to block off the bridge, install signs 30 miles to the south and 30 miles to the north (the next major intersections on the state highway using the overpass).  And then to demolish it as unsafe.

The DOT moved quickly to build a new overpass, and fortunately already had a design ready (originally to be replaced in 2020). In the meantime, people who want/need to stay on paved roads faced a 12- to 24-mile detour. (Only about six miles on gravel – although semis immediately started sliding off those roads). But the DOT had signs 30 miles to the north and south telling people that the “official” detour required driving about 45-50 miles either east or west and then down and another 45-50 miles: adding more than 90 miles to many trips.

And then things went downhill.

A couple of weeks later, after the bridge was demolished but the bridge NOT yet replaced, the signs on the north edge of the town 30 miles south and the signs on the south edge of the town 30 miles north were all removed.  And all mention of the closed overpass was removed from the DOT road conditions report on-line.  Travelers thought (foolishly) that meant the overpass was open.

So everyone got a couple more hours added to their trip, involuntarily.  And with gas prices pushing $3.00 a gallon, at an increase in direct costs too, especially in a truck. People complained and were assured that “Mistakes had been made and would not happen again.”

Skip ahead more than two months.

People traveling 400 miles and concerned about direct routes and detours were careful to check the website – construction still listed as on-going but the only informaiton provided was that the east- and west-bound traffic on the freeway would be reduced to one lane.  The “road closed” sign for the state highway going over the freeway was gone.

“Aha!  DOT has learned its lesson.”  We can now avoid 30-100 miles of additional driving and not worry about whether the recent thunderstorms had made the gravel roads impassible or just bad.

Except – they hadn’t.  It was REASONABLE to assume that the overpass was now open for traffic. And at the north end, there were again no signs warning of detours.

Until the traveler got there in mid-afternoon to find out it was STILL closed, and they therefore had to make the extensive detour. In addition, the traffic control plan (sometimes called the “Method of Handling Traffic” (MHT) was totally messed up. There were contradictory signs on BOTH the north and south sides of the interchange. There were detour signs pointing the wrong directions.  There were flagger signs when there were no flaggers.  It was a mess.

The bridge was “nearly” done, according to local people.  It was supposed to be open that evening.  Just six or eight hours too late for the travelers.  It was also more than two weeks overdue from when the DOT has said it would be done, back the end of April. “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.”

The electronic message boards are placed by DOT (state) employees.  The MHT is prepared by the contractor (or subcontractor) doing the bridge work – but it is reviewed, approved AND inspected by the DOT employees.  The planning and scheduling of the work, and therefore delays in it) is the responsibility of the DOT.

This sort of thing is unprofessional and shows a complete lack of respect and regard for travelers in the area, including those passing through, but especially local people, some of whom suddenly faced an additional 6 to 24 miles EVERY DAY to commute from home to work.  Plus more time and distance to go to worship, go shop, or go to school (before it closed for the season).

It would be bad from a contractor, but the government is usually quick to jerk them up about it. And competition means (sometimes, at least) that they might not get the next contract.

But when it is a government agency? The state’s DOT is a monopoly: only they can put up or authorize putting up electronic message boards and signs.  Only they can approve schedules and work plans, and traffic control.  All the private contractors can do is what they are told to do. In this particular state and locality, the region is a “red-headed step child” which apparently, can be treated like mushrooms.

But then, don’t MOST government agencies do that? And all on the taxpayers’ dime.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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4 Responses to Arrogance? Unprofessionalism? Or just being stupid?

  1. Zendo Deb says:

    There is an east-west incident that could apply, except you said north/south. There is a north/south incident in Charlotte, NC, but you said Great Plains. Just name the jurisdiction in question. (It isn’t libel if its true.)


    • tpolnathan says:

      Dear Deb:
      I would love to, but it isn’t a question of libel, it is a matter of protecting friends, neighbors and associates who told me about this. Protecting them from retribution by those agencies – and worse, by unneighborly “neighbors” who believe that these agencies can do no wrong.
      I am sure every region in the Fifty States has one or more similar stories, because the controllers – especially the bureaucrats behave much the same everywhere.
      Often it is not the local people – in the areas or regions or shops – who create problems like this: it is the bureaucrats and the political appointees in the state headquarters. If these organizations and people depended on people voluntarily paying them for good facilities and good service, there would still be problems, but not of such significance.


  2. Rocketman says:

    Totally believable from my experience. Where I live is in the country near a fairly good size city that recently put in a roundabout. After they completed it, someone discovered that the roundabout was too small to allow fire trucks and semi’s to use it. Why did someone think of that BEFORE they spent all that money and time? Now if a fire truck has to make a three mile detour to the fire if it’s on the other side of town. Idiots.


    • tpolnathan says:

      Rocketman, totally believable. I’ve seen this happen dozens of times: it is more and more common because engineers are poorly educated (too much other, non-engineering, math, science eat up the credit-hours) and the products of government-run, tax-funded institutions. When combined with all the disadvantages of a monopoly, government bureaucracy, and lack of accountability and transparency, you get messes. Really bad ones. Bridges that fall down (not the case in my little tale, at least), buildings constructed in the middle of streets, and streets constructed through the middle of buildings, driveways that have the grade of ski-slopes and drainage ways that have the grade of skating rinks. Engineering is a tough enough profession withOUT the politics and bureaucracy.


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