business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal had a story about the Tappan Zee Bridge, a 55-year old bridge that crosses the Hudson River, connecting Westchester and Rockland Counties, north of New York City. The point of the story may have been architectural and governmental, but the lesson was certainly applicable to business.

Here are the basic facts.

The Tappan Zee Bridge was opened in 1955, after being built at a cost of $640 million (in today’s dollars). Some 140,000 cars a day go across it ... and after more than five decades of usage, the bridge is judged to be structurally deficient; it has some of the same problems as the Minnesota bridge that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people.

Now, the Tappan Zee is not in danger of falling down anytime soon. But it does need replacement - which could cost somewhere between $8 billion and $16 billion, depending on what kind of bridge they build. The problem is that New York State doesn’t have the money to build a new bridge, and so at least some folks are considering the possibility that a bridge built and controlled by the private sector might be the best way to go.

And while the government debates these options - a process that is likely to take years - the state has to keep repairing the bridge. Roughly $150 million has been spent on upkeep just over the past five years, and an equal amount it likely to be spent over the next two or three years.

No matter how you look at it, the options seem to be bad and worse.

Here’s the business lesson. Thirty years ago, I began my writing career as a reporter for the Rockland Journal News, and I used to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge twice a day for more than two years. And I vividly remember that even then - three decades ago - people were talking about the fact that there was too much traffic for the Tappan Zee to handle, that they either needed to build a companion or replacement bridge.

Faced with a bad situation, the people in charge of the Tappan Zee Bridge punted. They simply avoided making a tough decision, and now, all these years later, the situation is worse, the costs are higher, and the same tough decisions need to be made.

The scenarios and problems we face in business - and in life - rarely get better or easier to deal with when we ignore or delay them. We just end up facing obsolescence or irrelevance ... or the whole damn structure falls down.

And that’s what’s on my mind this morning. As always, I want to know what is on yours.
KC's View: