A lot of fuss over an injury

Bridge designer FIGG unfairly called out in South Carolina

Bill Wilson / June 05, 2018
Bill Wilson

Do not come up with another word for “Gilloolyed.”

It’s just not fair, and is totally inappropriate. To fill everyone in, back in 1994 U.S. women’s figure skater Tonya Harding’s then-manager and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly set the world on fire when his hit men took a retractable baton to gold medal threat Nancy Kerrigan after the skater finished a practice session days before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. The knee cap thump was supposed to knock Kerrigan out of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Kerrigan recovered in time to capture a silver medal, while Harding finished a retractable pole’s length away in eighth, but Gillooly became a punch line in the years to follow. (Can you tell I just got around to watching the movie, I, Tonya?). If somebody did physical harm to you, then you were “Gilloolyed.” I haven’t heard the term since ’94, even though I’m sure it is still being murmured in some backroad bar somewhere.

When a portion of South Carolina’s Wando Bridge was closed in May after a broken cable was discovered within the span’s support system, Channel 4 News out of Charleston tried to tie a name behind the unexpected blow. “Wando Bridge designed by same firm as Florida pedestrian bridge that collapsed, killed 6,” the online headline declared. No, it is not fair to make this a FIGG thing. Yes, FIGG Bridge Group designed Wando, back in the late 1980s, but that does not make this bridge, or any other one touched by the Tallahassee, Fla., firm, vulnerable to disaster. This is the media of today, when clicks and downloads are just as valuable as Nielsen ratings. Headlines matter, even when words are minced. The South Carolina DOT (SCDOT) has yet to release the cause of the broken cable, which was stressed into place over 30 years ago. A number of different variables could be the culprit, so making a trigger-reaction public domain is wrong on a number of different levels—for the designer of the bridge and the traveling public. There is already a bridge-crossing phobia; let’s not turn it into fast-moving virus.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also delivered a trigger reaction, one that also comes straight out of the How to be a Politician handbook. Shortly after the broken cable was discovered, McMaster asked for an independent review on how all bridge inspections are done throughout the state. The response was not 100% standard. Most governors order the DOT itself to conduct the reviews. So now SCDOT is taking a punch to the chops. McMaster also wants all findings to be made public, which could actually be a good thing. If the SCDOT has followed the proper protocol, then this action could set it free. The governor also may find himself on thin ice with the public. This closer look could reveal the funding inadequacies of the state. Perhaps if the SCDOT had access to a broader range of tools, maybe the fatigued section would have been flagged. Bridge monitoring systems and other technological advances are luxury items to many state DOTs, an afterthought due to a budget belt that is being pulled beyond the provided buckle-fastening holes.

I hope the SCDOT is welcoming this visitor to make tracks all over its home, because if it is then the final report should reveal that the agency is doing its job as far as the dollars will stretch. It is not an easy task when funding has been kneecapped.

About the Author

Wilson is editorial director of Roads & Bridges.

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