America’s physical foundations seem to be crumbling. Last week, a 40-year-old interstate highway bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, plunging rush-hour traffic into the Mississippi River 60 feet below. Two weeks earlier, an 83-year-old steam pipe under the streets of Manhattan exploded in a volcano-like blast, showering asbestos-laden debris. And two years before that, substandard levees gave way in New Orleans, opening the way for the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. These are some of the most dramatic signs of America’s failure to maintain its aging physical structures at a time when demands on roads, transit systems, sewage treatment plants and other vital facilities are rising. In the event of a catastrophic failure, many lives can be lost.

Congress is now scrambling to provide extra money to help Minnesota replace its stricken bridge. One sensible bill that ought to be quickly passed would set up a commission to assess the state of America’s infrastructure, set priorities, and recommend financing approaches.

Another bill is proposing a new national bank to leverage both public and private investment for repair and new construction projects. The collapse of Minneapolis’ Bridge No. 9340 is a reminder that such long-postponed investments can no longer be neglected. — International Herald Tribune