For most of the 20th century, America was far ahead of the rest of the world in the quality and extent of its infrastructure in virtually every sector and every type, providing it with a marked economic advantage. However, through government neglect and an unwillingness to devote adequate funding to maintenance and expansion, America’s infrastructure is in dire straits, some of it far behind other nations and part of it in danger of collapse. In fact, some highways and bridges have already failed, with a number of deaths and injuries. Private industry is not going to assume responsibility for infrastructure upkeep though it is a prerequisite for further economic growth. It is the government’s function which necessitates spending money, requiring taxes or fees to generate funds. This is an anathema for the Republican Party and its Congressional members who do not seem to realize the vital importance of the infrastructure for the economy.
The Federal government built most of the nation’s infrastructure over the past two centuries, with legislators and cabinet members who were aware that this was required to insure continued progress. Ease of transportation was a priority, from the Erie Canal in 1807, to the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, and the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s. Currently, however, the nation’s transportation infrastructure is lagging the demands and needs of an expansive economy, which will only worsen in the future. The inexpensive and efficient transportation of goods is vital to American businesses, allowing them to keep manufacturing in the U.S. or move production back to the nation. It keeps prices lower, increases productivity, and improves long term competitiveness. Millions of jobs can also be generated by infrastructure investment.
What exactly does infrastructure encompass? It includes roads and bridges, dams, levees, canals, ports, and inland waterways, airports, mass transit, and railroads, public parks and recreation areas, drinking water, wastewater, solid waste, hazardous waste, energy generation facilities and transmission networks, Internet maintenance and protection, broadband and schools. The American Society of Civil Engineers provides a report card on the state of America’s infrastructure every four years, the latest being released in 2013. In that report, the G.P.A. for the nation’s infrastructure was D+, with the projected investment necessary to correct the deficiencies by 2020 estimated to be $3.6 trillion. With minimal amounts allocated for infrastructure work by Congress since the report was published, it is likely the price has increased since then. The report’s cost was based on maintenance, repairs, and modernization, but did not provide for new additions such as high speed trains, which are already in use in Japan, China, and Europe, providing reliable inexpensive transportation for their citizens. In addition, carbon emissions are reduced by taking thousands of vehicles daily off the roads. Improving control systems so that they cannot be easily hacked was also apparently not included, though part of that expense would be borne by private companies that utilize portions of the infrastructure in their business model.
America has more than 4 million miles of roads, 600,000 bridges, and 3000 transit providers. However, federal, state, and local investment in transportation has decreased as a proportion of GDP, though population and congestion have grown along with maintenance backlogs. The quality of America’s roads in the World Economic Forum’s rankings dropped from 7th to 18th overall in less than 10 years. 45 percent of Americans do not have access to mass transit, one in four bridges need major repairs or cannot manage current traffic, and 65 percent of the nation’s roads are in poor condition. Because of the deficiencies, Americans waste 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year which results in families spending more than $120 billion in lost time and additional fuel. Businesses face shipping delays and $27 billion extra in transportation expenses which are passed on to consumers. It is also estimated that roadway conditions played a major role in about one third of the 33,000 traffic fatalities in 2013.
Further neglect of infrastructure will cost Americans more jobs, time, and access, on the roads, in the air, mass transportation, and the Internet. Making sure all Americans have safe water is also urgent, after the Flint debacle. Waste and wastewater also has to be handled efficiently. Congress has to understand the impact continued neglect of infrastructure will have on the economy. Now is an excellent time to start repairing and expanding all facets of the nation’s infrastructure, with low interest rates and many blue collar workers unemployed. The longer the can is kicked down the road by politicians at federal and state levels, the greater the price that will have to be paid in the future.
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