The infrastructure of the United States is getting old and worn out, and virtually nothing is being done to renew it. This seems to be due to the strategy that the open market will recognize and fix the problem. That strategy is ridiculous. The open market will always wait until a failure becomes an emergency stimulating large scale funding and profits. Normal maintenance will not stimulate politicians to appropriate funds. All business stimulus in this country comes from potential profit, and all political stimulus comes from perceived emergencies. Here is a summary of the current situation based on It’s Time to Fix America’s Infrastructure. Here’s Where to Start from the web. http://www.wired.com/2015/01/time-fix-americas-infrastructure-heres-start/
“According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent infrastructure report card, the US earns a D+ for its infrastructure. It is, in a word, a mess. This is about much more than potholes. This is about keeping the economy, literally and figuratively, moving. Much of the economic boom the United States has experienced over the last 50 years is because the network of highways makes it easy to ship goods. If it continues into a state of disrepair, the long-term hit to our economy could be catastrophic.” This applies to bridges, ports, railways, water purification, pipelines of all kinds, electric transmission lines and Internet, as well as to roadways. “The US would have to invest $3.6 trillion to bring it all up to snuff by 2020.”
Some of our electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems originated in the 1880s. Investment since 2005 has increased, but permitting, weather, and low maintenance have compounded the problems of failures and interruptions. Thousands of miles of new transmission lines are planned but permitting and routing issues will be hard to overcome.
The Highway Trust Fund is the source of federal money for highway projects. These funds must be matched by state and local governments. This represents a political roadblock. The Trust Fund gets its money from excise taxes on gasoline and diesel. These revenues have been insufficient to pay for existing spending causing Congress to authorize transfers from the Treasury’s General Fund, to the tune of $10.8 billion in one year. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993. The Budget Office expects a shortfall of $15 billion per year.
Ten percent of our bridges are considered structurally deficient. Think of the Interstate 35 failure in Minnesota in 2007. 14% more of the U. S. bridges are functionally obsolete. They are not suited to their current tasks, yet they are still in operation.
“Inland waterways, including canals and rivers, move the equivalent of 51 million truckloads of goods every year—and half the locks are more than 50 years old. According to the ASCE, the problem is so bad that many barge operators have supported an increase in their fuel tax to increase funding to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the main user funding mechanism for construction and rehabilitation of inland waterways.” “The US Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains most of the system, says it will take $13 billion through 2020, with 27 percent of that going towards new lock and dam facilities and 73 percent toward improving existing facilities.” One project on the Ohio River has absorbed most of the Trust Fund.
Other Key Elements
Then there are harbors, dams and piping of all sorts. The largest ships cannot be handled by many of our harbors. “In 2012, nearly 14,000 dams were considered a high-hazard, where failure of the dam would likely cause the loss of life.” Only 4% of dams are owned by the federal government. State inspection programs are woefully lacking in funding. As for piping, consider the lead in out-of-date pipes that can leach into drinking water (Flint, Michigan), or the toxic spills from fuel pipes around the country.
The open market will not solve these problems until they are critical, and then only because emergency funds are appropriated. However, a regular program of maintenance will slowly bring us up to acceptable standards and create many jobs in the process. All it takes is the recognition that slow steady spending is much cheaper than emergency spending after life threatening events. We have to recognize it, and our elected officials have to recognize it. And those officials are our responsibility.