Last night, a 60 Minutes report by Steve Kroft highlighted some of scarier implications of the demise of America’s infrastructure.
- 70,000 bridges are “structurally deficient.*” Tens of thousands more are functionally obsolete. One of these was the Skagit River Bridge in Washington; another was the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis.
- 32% of our major roads are in poor condition. Bad roads contribute to accidents and fatalities in every county, in every state—and, drivers pay around $67 billion per year in costs and repairs caused by road conditions.
- Future economic costs are enormous. Aging train tracks, outdated seaports, crumbling highways cause untold numbers of problems and delays for private businesses.
Our infrastructure is on life support right now.
–Ray LaHood, former Transportation Secretary, with Building America’s Future
The worst part: we need a fearful, perpetually gridlocked Congress to fix this problem.
Congress needs to take action.
Public spending on transportation infrastructure is at the lowest level in nearly 70 years (which is about the age of many deteriorating bridges).
That means pieces of critical infrastructure—like bridges on major highways like I-5—aren’t being properly maintained, repaired, or replaced.
But Congress hasn’t even produced a long-term surface transportation bill since 2009. State and local governments can’t plan any fixes if they don’t know when and how those repaving projects or bridge girders will be funded.
As 60 Minutes pointed out, building the US infrastructure used to be a bipartisan issue.
Now, almost no politician will actually try to do anything about this problem.
The federal gas tax, which pays for highways and roads across the U.S., is $.18/gallon of gas. Most people think it’s a lot higher; Congress hasn’t increased the tax in more than 20 years. As a result, the Highway Trust Fund is almost completely depleted.
Like any problem, the longer we wait, the harder it will be to solve.
Congress thinks that the American people are shortsighted, that we don’t understand the critical investment needed in our economy.
Americans aren’t stupid: we can understand that every billion dollars spent on infrastructure creates 35,000 good jobs.
We can understand that one critical highway or bridge collapse could have an economic impact upwards of $100 million per day.
We need to make a massive investment in America’s framework. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, if we started right now, it’ll take an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020.
Sadly, it may take another serious disaster to create the political will to solve this problem.
But one way or another, we are all going to pay for this failure.
See Collapsing Under our Feet for more on the impact of failing infrastructure, and how investing in infrastructure allows our economy to grow.
* A highway bridge is classified as structurally deficient by the National Bridge Index if the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert is in “poor” condition (0 to 4 on the NBI rating scale), or if the bridge’s load-carrying capacity is significantly below current design standards.