Broken Bridges Over Troubled Waters
By: Aaron Knowlton
Infrastructure: it’s one of the most important aspects of our economy, and two-thirds of the country is in favor of increased spending to rehabilitate it.
This issue is something that could be of concern to millennials, as well as older generations, because it concerns the fundamental systems that serve a city or region and keep the economy moving. That includes roadways and mass transit, but it also means potable water, dams, electrical grids, internet access, and sanitation. These are essential needed for everyday living in a first-world country.
America’s infrastructure rates a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future,” the Society stated.
The highway system dates back to the early 1930s, when sales of automobiles were on the rise, and nearly half of the current highway systems were built under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Americans are dependent on the interstate and highway systems as a major means of travel, but the roads have years of wear and tear on them, causing decay in the pavement, which can damage vehicles.
“More than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested, and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014,” stated an ASCE report on the state of roads.
Every one in five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition, resulting in a serious and increasing backlog of repair that need to be completed each year, according to the report. Between 2014 and 2015, traffic fatalities increased by 7 percent, as more than 35,000 Americans died on roadways.
Drinking water remains a concern, as the nation’s pipes are degrading as their material ages. Contaminants from flaking steel and rust are a primary issue in water that’s fit for consumption and hurricanes have shown an increase in strength, according to the National Climate Assessment..
“The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm,” the National Climate Assessment said.
The rise of the sea level, surges in storms and heavy downpours increase the weather damage to U.S. industrial facilities. These include oil pipelines, off-shore derricks and desalination plants.
On land, roads and railways are damaged by severe levels of heat; and flooding from rains and melted snowpacks overwhelm flood protection measures that are designed for excessive conditions. Recent storms in Florida, the Carolinas and along the Gulf Mexico have had far-reaching effects on the economy of the U.S. as a whole.
A lesser-known issue is internet access, which remains a problem for people that live out in rural areas. A recent study by Pew Research points to high-speed broadband connectivity as a major problem for nearly a quarter of rural Americans. This is becoming a major issue as the
American economy is starting to thrive on the use of online stores and other e-commerce sites.
Another look at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card shows that surface transportation is one of the lowest-ranking categories. As of 2015, this mode of travel made over 10 billion passenger trips; and this is up 33 percent from the mid-’90s when transit made 8 billion. Insufficient funding over the years has resulted in an ever-increasing backlog of rehabilitative needs, mainly in tracks and rail stations. As of 2013, only about half of Americans are able to get to a grocery store via mass transit, according to the report.
According to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, young professionals value the ease of commute and transit access over parking availability.
There are nearly 123,000 miles of public road in Ohio, and 17 percent of those are in poor condition, according to the report. Poor road conditions lead to costly auto repair, and Ohioans run up $475 annually in fix-it costs.
President Donald Trump has outlined his infrastructure plan, which includes a $200 billion annual increase in federal spending to total 1.5 trillion dollars over 10 years. But the source of the money is another question, one which the administration has postponed until after the November midterm elections. Another idea from the White House says that private money may be helpful in closing the funding gap.