“Tolerance of the Status Quo is Unacceptable”

While Governor Christie is no friend of our infrastructure (unless it is privatized), Senator Robert Menendez has been a vocal proponent for infrastructure investment and the return those investments give us in terms of jobs and economic productivity. He reiterated his views at a press conference today not far from the site of the Paulsboro railroad bridge collapse which spewed toxic material in that town and caused hundreds of families to evacuate their homes.

Menendez pointed out that the bridge that collapsed was built four years after the first transcontinental railroad was completed – hardly a reassuring thought when trains are carrying toxic chemicals through populated areas.

The bridge that collapsed is privately owned, and is not subject to the same stringent inspections and checks and balances that public infrastructure is. Yet, the bridge has been a trouble spot for its owner, Conrail, with several past anomalies that apparently were not remediated properly. Menendez indicated that he will introduce legislation to fix this problem. He said, “Tolerance of the status quo is unacceptable.”

But there will be a time for implementing a long-term solution. Meanwhile, many Paulsboro residents are still out of their homes. They will be able to move back in stages, as explained by Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore (7:20) in the press conference – video below.

For those in the affected area, a web site has been established to provide the latest information on safety and repatriation. You can find it at www.paulsbororesponse.com.

Below the fold: Two concerns I had going into this press conference, and some (hopefully) reassuring answers.

The bridge is privately owned, but the state and federal taxpayers are on the hook for recovery and cleanup. Who pays? Senator Menendez assured the gathering that Conrail will reimburse the government. He used the BP oil spill as an example of a similar situation. But did BP really pay 100% of the cost of fixing the damage?

On the day of the collapse, I noticed that the video from the news helicopters showed first responders in the area without any HAZMAT protective gear. After the news conference, I spoke with Paulsboro Fire Chief Alfonso Giampola about this. He told me that the first responders were tested for presence of toxins in their bodies, and there were no indications of harmful chemicals. Hopefully these tests were accurate and there will be no long-lasting impact.

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