How dare I raise the specter of companies actually benefiting from yesterday's bridge collapse in Minnesota. But there's a reason that the stocks of two local companies, L.A.-based Aecom Technology and Pasadena-based Jacobs Engineering, rose sharply in today's trading. "It certainly raises awareness to the need for spending in our country on improving our highways and bridges and transit systems," Steven Fisher, an analyst at UBS securities, told Bloomberg. (Aecom rose 4.4 percent; Jacobs 3.1 percent.) An estimated $1.6 trillion is needed over the next five years to bring the country's infrastructure to good condition, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. This is not a new problem, of course, but the nationís infrastructure is simply not a sexy public policy issue (ďItís not even new stuff, itís just overhauling the old stuff,Ē an engineer told me.) William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, told Cnet that there just aren't enough inspectors and inspections. "It is a tragedy, but unfortunately it doesn't surprise me," he said. There are, after all, 600,000 bridges in the U.S. More from Cnet:
More than 500 bridges failed in the U.S. during the 1990s, [Ibbs] said. Some were sudden, spectacular failures of commuter bridges that involved fatalities. The majority, however, were out-of-the-way bridges that often failed slowly, or at least in an observable way that gave people advance warning of danger. But age and budget shortfalls are also factors. "The age of the infrastructure in the U.S. is old. A lot of the highways and bridges are 30 to 35 years old," said Essam Zaghloul, CEO of Fiber Optic Systems Technology, also known as Fox-Tek. "The roads are old, and they aren't always safe." (The type of bridge that collapsed in Minnesota, an arch bridge, was popular in the 1950s, said Ibbs, but it was phased out when engineers came up with new designs that were cheaper to construct.)
It's worth noting that last November California voters approved a $20 billion bond package for infrastructure work, including bridges. That's a start, but it's quite a ways from $1.6 trillion.