TxDOT’s St. Patrick’s Day miracle
March 19, 2013, 8:35 pm by Roy Bode
We got lucky on St. Patrick’s Day.
TxDOT orchestrated the explosion of nearly 30 charges on the graceful old US 281 bridge that carried us across Lake Marble Falls for three generations without blowing down any nearby habitations or killing anyone.
Such a calamity may have been about as likely as an eleven-ton meteor falling to ground – which is about how TxDOT brushed the picture when its people finally deigned to answer a few questions from those whose homes and businesses were next door to the fireworks.
But check with the Russians.
It turns out rocks sometimes do fall out of a clear sky and burrow into your backyard.
It also turns out that while nothing disastrous happened in Sunday’s adventure with TxDOT, even this bunch of engineers and government bureaucrats known for their supreme command of arrogance aren’t fail-proof divinities.
Despite the buffoonish backslapping and hoo-hawing of TxDOT’s Executive Director Phil Wilson and a couple of wingmen he brought to the provinces for Sunday’s extravaganza, the show didn’t go exactly as planned.
* Most of the bridge fell, but not all. Now some guys will use cutting torches to finish the job because not all the explosives detonated, leaving one section of the old bridge standing on end in the river. Fortunately, the remaining charges didn’t explode belatedly.
* A major fiber optic line was severed by flying debris, briefly downing 911 service and crashing Verizon landline and cellular phones as well as internet, cable television, and some ATM and credit card terminals late into Sunday night in Burnet, Blanco and Llano counties. Luckily, TxDOT was apparently right when it insisted that the new US 281 bridge could withstand the explosion along its western side with hardly a blemish.
* Shrapnel punctured a city sewer pipeline that also runs along the underside of the new bridge. Fortunately, that was discovered before it leaked into the water below.
* These mishaps meant TxDOT couldn’t reopen the new bridge to north-south traffic for nearly an hour on a weekend with Spring Break traffic. Down the list of problems was that enough plastic barrels couldn’t be quickly rounded up to keep half the lanes blocked while workers tackled repairs. Luckily, they found them.
* With only one northbound and one southbound lane open, motorists in massive traffic jams had plenty of time to recall TxDOT’s prediction that the bridge would be back in full service within 10 to 20 minutes of the blast. Fortunately, the remaining two lanes were finally cleared after about nine hours.
* Metal shards rained on the roof, side and deck of the River City Grille. Items were shaken from the walls at homes in Gateway Park. A pool cracked in Meadowlakes. Luckily again, there was only minor damage.
* Fortunately, after enduring choking clouds of concrete dust that sent him to the doctor with breaking problems as workers prepared for the blast, Bobby Butterfield could watch the huge black cloud of smoke and debris drift away from his little motor home Sunday. He was there because the state’s bureaucrats reneged on an earlier plan to offer hotel accommodations away from the blast to those living closest to it, apparently concluding that the explosion wouldn’t sufficiently increase their inconvenience.
* But the biggest miracle of St. Patrick’s Day may belong to Matt & Valene Fields. A small chunk of metal fell into their boat anchored in the "safe zone” designated by authorities 1,000 feet from the bridges. Because it only brushed the thick sleeve of Matt’s sweat shirt, he and Valene may have been spared serious injury.
So what should we have expected from TxDOT – an agency that reputedly works for the Citizens of Texas? Perfection? Not the slightest error?
But we would have liked some respect.
From the beginning, these government bullies have treated those whose lives, livelihoods and property neighbor this project as simpletons, basically ignoring them unless the agency thought they should be concerned by its disruptions. So there were no plans for public meetings until the neighbors and the city began to demand them a few weeks ago. To this day, you could count their meetings with average people in the way of their project on one hand.
The worries of mere individuals – who TxDOT clearly sees as God’s Lesser Creatures – have not been of the slightest interest to a culture that believes its flyers and glib blandishments should be trusted blindly and without question.
It would be nice to think that there was one more unintended consequence of Sunday’s event: Maybe the next time a couple of dozen TxDOT bureaucrats come to celebrate an explosion in the middle of a small town, the townspeople will celebrate with them because they’ve treated them like humans rather than inconsequential inconveniences.
Nice dream, but here’s real life.
No one from TxDOT stopped by to ask Bobby Butterfield how he was when his house stopped shaking. No one canvassed the neighborhood to ask how everyone fared. In fact, the smoke had barely cleared before the agency honchos hightailed it back to Austin, leaving the havoc they commissioned to disappear in their rearview mirrors.
~ Roy E. Bode
President & Publisher
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