The story of an overpass collapsing in Istanbul

The story of an overpass collapsing in Istanbul

The story of an overpass collapsing in Istanbul

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An overpass collapsed Sept. 3 in the magnificent district of Avcılar when the raised trailer of a tanker truck hit it on the busy E-5 highway, killing one person and injuring four others.

This is not even news anymore. Istanbul is a dangerous place for the man on the street. (And maybe the woman at home.)

An overpass collapses one day, a car falls off the ferry another day, deadly traffic accidents happen almost by the hour, a city bus catches fire, a husband kills a wife every other day, a construction worker falls from a high place, a piece of cement falls from a tall building hitting pedestrians, the rope of the ferry breaks and snaps and then the cycle starts again: A overpass collapses one day, a car falls off…

Believe it or not, while we were driving past that infamous Avcılar overpass about a month ago, seeing the poorly constructed legs and structure, I told my husband: “This bridge is about to collapse.” Not that I am a very wise person but it was so badly built, it did not even need a truck to hit it. Even strong winds would have made the bridge collapse.

The mentality of contractors in our country, particularly those who work for the government, can be described as the following (this is an imaginary scenario, but it could also be very close to the truth):
You start going to the same mosque with top officials, with the mayor, deputy mayor and heads of departments in the municipality. Maybe after a few Friday prayers, you develop a relationship. If they like you enough or if you pray enough, they help you form your company. You may or may not be included in the “pool” group at this stage. Then they ensure you win the tender contract for building an overpass. I am skipping details for convenience.

You have never built an overpass before; you have never even built a sand castle with bridges ever in your life, but that does not matter. They tell you who to hire, where to locate your office, where to buy the equipment, from where to lease the machinery. They ask you from time to time to hire this and that, to donate this much to this, to lend the truck for three days, to give free meals to this charity, but that’s about all. You continue going to Friday prayers with officials. You keep the empty shoe boxes, just in case, of the new shoes that you buy for yourself, your children and your wife. Mentioning a wife here implies that I am talking about a male contractor, because folks, there are no female contractors in this country – not that I know of. There is not enough oxygen in the environment for a female contractor to live.

While the bridge is being built there is a young engineer who annoys you. He (I don’t know of a female engineer working on an overpass construction in Istanbul) comes up to you pointing out the risks in the construction. He says the static calculations are wrong, the steel is below standard, the materials being used pose a risk, the construction does not comply with the conditions of the contract, the detour precautions are inadequate, etc. You like listening to him. He sounds like the radio.

When the overpass is finished you are proud of yourself. With its shiny elevators, the billboards on both sides, you have really built an overpass worthy of Istanbul, of Europe maybe. The young engineer keeps annoying you.

Then in about two months, even though you have no business there any more, you walk over the overpass and notice the clusters of rust forming on the legs that were supposed to be stainless, the elevators that do not work and the missing floor tiles. The young engineer is now working on the construction of another overpass and he talks less. You are disturbed a bit at the terrible sight of your “first born,” but so much richer than before.

On May 4, 2012, an asphalt truck, with its dump trailer open, hits the overpass. Huge damage is caused to the legs and on the platform. Your company is called to repair the bridge. How lucky you are to be paid twice for the same job. But the young engineer is again talking too much, so you fire him.

There is another fatal accident two-and-a-half months later on July 15, 2012, this time not on your overpass, but at the metro bus construction a few hundred meters away. A cement block falls from the crane, killing a worker, injuring two others and a passerby. But this has nothing to do with you.

Move out of the mind of the imaginary contractor and go back to the facts: After this latest accident, the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Civil Engineers (the institution that our new president hates the most after the Chamber of Architects and City Planners), issued a report saying the collapse could be the result of mistakes in project design, production and the usage of below-standard material and that security measures were not taken while the wreckage was being lifted. They also stated that technically qualified people should work in such constructions, including welders and assemblers. (What they mean here is “not your prayer buddies.”)

Another expert said, the overpass should have been resilient, it should have been strong enough to resist such an impact. (Didn’t I tell you?)

Back to the mind of the contractor: The statement of the chamber of engineers sounded like the young engineer’s warnings in the first years of his career.

It also reminds you of the argument that one of our ex-presidents, a civil engineer by profession, said that when the hospital wing he built when he was a contractor collapsed in a medium-sized earthquake, while the other parts of the hospital remained erect. He said his responsibility was finished the moment he handed over the job.

Likewise, your responsibility is done when you hand over the job.

Now, you are calculating whether or not you will be given the new job of building this collapsed overpass. It’s good business; you would like to build it again, for the third time. You will continue going to the same mosque as the deputy mayor.