More than 63,000 bridges across the United States are in urgent need of repair, with most of the aging, structurally compromised structures part of the interstate highway system, an analysis of recent federal data has found.
The report, released on Thursday by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, warned that the dangerous bridges are used some 250 million times a day by trucks, school buses, passenger cars and other vehicles.
Overall, there are more than 607,000 bridges in the United States, according to the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration, and most are more than 40 years old.
The Transportation Department routinely inspects bridges and rates them on a scale of zero to nine. Bridges receiving a grade of four or below are considered structurally deficient, and now account for more than 10 percent of all bridges.
“The bridge problem sits squarely on the backs of our elected officials,” [chief economist at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association Alison Premo] Black said. “The state transportation departments can’t just wave a magic wand and make the problem go away.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers, which separately produces a report card on U.S. infrastructure every four years, gave it an overall “D,” or poor, grade. Bridges received a “C+” grade for mediocre.
The U.S. needs to invest $20.5 billion annually to clear the bridge repair backlog, up from the current $12.8 billion spent annually, the ACSE has said.
The civil engineers’ group estimates that the U.S. will need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 to keep its transportation infrastructure in a good state of repair.
America the short-sighted, America the reactionary.
In Washington’s Snohomish County, local governments OK the building of houses in areas where mudslides are inevitable, resulting in 41 deaths. Why? because bringing in taxpayer dollars and jobs looks good now, forget the potential negative consequences, those will be someone else’s problems.
We squabble over small (if existent) healthcare premium increases associated with Obamacare, unmindful of expanded access to mental healthcare and subsidies to the poor; at the same time we bounce from avoidable tragedy to avoidable tragedy, shaking our heads and asking “what could we have done differently?”
And we let our infrastructure fall into disrepair, setting ourselves up for who knows how many avoidable deaths (not to mention the economic arguments: high unemployment and low borrowing costs beg for stimulus spending, the long term economic costs of failing infrastructure). Nobody wants to be remembered as the person who “wasted” money on a bridge, and there is no accountability for allowing avoidable incidents to occur due to political inaction.
Subsidize for-profit corporations for doing what they would need to do anyways to maximize profits? Sure that brings in jobs. Prevent a bridge from collapsing? Ehhhhh let that be the next guys problem.
It is telling that investors around the globe seemingly believe in America’s growth and ability to repay our debts more than our own lawmakers do. America’s strength is derived from it’s people, our ingenuity and work ethic. If we continue to under-invest in our people and our infrastructure, we are undermining the very things which made America a global superpower (and “safe haven” for investment) in the first place.
This is not to say that we should not pursue tax reform, and demand oversight / review to ensure programs run efficiently and effectively. But America must more fully embrace the concepts of fiat money and Modern Monetary Theory; past debt cannot be a reason to forgo our current needs, or in the future we will not even have the option of affordable deficit spending. The U.S. Federal government has, in essence, a “blank check”, so long as it is used responsibly; systematic under-investment in the American people and infrastructure is irresponsible and shortsighted.
Issues like this remind me of a favorite Abaraham Lincoln quote: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Of course Lincoln was referring to Civil War, a more immediate threat. America seems to be able to deal with immediate/obvious threats. It is responses to impending threats to American prosperity that remain elusive, which is at the same time understandable and infuriating.
We wait for tragedy to strike, lament the dead and point fingers, instead of acting preventatively. Some tragedies are truly unavoidable; this truth should not be used as a free pass for saying all tragedies are unavoidable.