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5 Things To Know About America’s Failing Infrastructure

Photo courtesy of Axel Drainville via Flickr

Infrastructure: It may seem unsexy, but it’s how we get around, buy from out of town, and essentially live happy lives — until their support systems crumble, that is.

As we’ve written about before, one in 10 of America’s bridges are deemed structurally inefficient. That’s about 28,000 bridges — and over twice that are functionally obsolete.

But bridges make up only a portion of vital infrastructure. Highways, pipelines, ports, dams, and tunnels are all in need of serious upgrades as well.

Here’s 5 facts you should know about why fixing failing infrastructure is of vital import, and the metaphorical roadblocks America has in the way of literally safer roads.

1. America nearly flunked its latest infrastructure report card.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, America ranks 19th place in quality of infrastructure.

The American Society for Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card, an assessment provided every four years, gave America a D+ average.

While solid waste received a not-too-shabby B-, the rest (aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, waterways, levees, ports, parks, schools, roads, rails, transit, and wastewater) fester in the lower C and D range — performance our forefathers would definitely ground us for.

2. $3.6 trillion needs to be invested by 2020 to get infrastructure up to modern standards.

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A D+ is good for one thing, though: not technically being a failing grade. It’s also better than a D, America’s grade in 2009 — so there has been improvement, however minimal.

The ASCE is not without hope for America. Infrastructure is vital to not only public safety, but the American economy, and the ASCE says that $3.6 trillion must be invested in total by 2020 for a 21st century infrastructure upgrade.

3. The federal government is not responsible for infrastructure — states are.

One issue that keeps infrastructure out-of-date is funding sources, or lack thereof. Infrastructure funding doesn’t come from the feds; in fact about 90 percent of public sector spending was at state and local levels as of April 2014.

Though almost 30 percent of transportation budget does come from the federal government, the rest is made up by state and local governments. Only 4 percent of dams are owned by federal government; the rest are operated on state level.

When state funding is taken into account, it’s estimated that infrastructure investment accounts for approximately 0 percent of the US GDP.

Unfortunately, many states still have high levels of debt leftover from the 2008 financial crisis, and are unable to finance expensive infrastructure projects themselves.

4. Gas taxes have been used to fund infrastructure for decades, but aren’t high enough to fill the deficit.

What money does come from federal transportation spending comes from gasoline taxes. The tax today is 18.4 percent per gallon, the same that it was in 1993, but one-third less adjusted for inflation.

Americans are more reliant on cars than any other society, so raising taxes on gasoline is an unpopular to say the least. The irony is that a raised gas tax could contribute to funding projects that would decrease reliance on cars, such as high speed rails, and therefore make people more amenable to higher gas taxes.

5. It all comes down to politics.

At the end of the day, everyone agrees that America’s infrastructure needs to be upgraded. The issues will always revolve around where the money will come from.

There have been bipartisan bills proposed to address such very issues, but none that can be agreed upon.

If raising the gas tax (or similar policies that charge drivers for their road usage) continues to be a non-starter, there is another way: borrowing the money. According to Vox, global investors are clamoring to lend money, and it would undoubtedly pay off in the long term.

The takeaway

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Getting new infrastructure projects started will help keep America competitive in the global economy, reinforce public safety, create jobs, save money, and decrease reliance on fossil fuel to boot.

Let’s just hope our commutes remain smooth enough until we reach a solution we can all get on board with.

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Jennifer Markert