America’s Engineers: Roads, Rails, Bridges Crumbling Before Our Eyes
They estimate $4.5 trillion needed by 2025 for infrastructure repairs—a sum falling far short of political promises
The United States is in the midst of an infrastructure crisis, warns the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in a new report published Thursday. And the worst may be yet to come.
The ASCE, the nation’s oldest professional engineering body, issued their latest report card on the structural quality and management of the country’s bridges, roads and other publicly accessed services, and the results are dismal.
Despite some meager progress made since 2013, when their last report was released, the ACSE handed out the same grade to the nation’s overall infrastructure: a “D+.” The report also estimated at least a $4.59 trillion investment, from both the private and public sectors, would be needed by 2025 in order to bring it up to an adequate-for-now “B.”
But only $2.5 trillion is currently projected to be earmarked for infrastructure, the report further found, leaving behind a $2 trillion hole. And without bridging that gap, it grimly noted, many of our bridges and other crucial utilities may reach the breaking point, leading to more wasted money, lost jobs, and endangered lives.
“Our infrastructure bill is overdue and our inaction is costing Americans $3,400 per year in lost disposal income,” said former ASCE president Greg DiLoreto, who led the ASCE Committee charged with producing the report card, in a statement. “While Congress and states have made some effort to improve infrastructure, it’s not enough. To see real progress, we need to make long-term infrastructure investment a priority.”
Delving into specifics, the report only found marginal improvements had occurred during the past four years. Hazardous waste sites, levees, and the country’s rail networks were among the few kinds of infrastructure that slightly improved. But only our rails received a passing grade of “B,” while our general transit system, solid waste sites, and parks received a lower grade than before. That inaction has contributed to 9.1 percent of our bridges being “structurally deficient” as of 2016; 240,000 water main breaks annually; and a collective 6.9 billion hours spent in traffic delays every year, along with increased roadside fatalities.
But whether things will change any in the Trump era is an unanswered question. Much was made of Trump’s vague promise to invest an added $1 trillion dollars in infrastructure during the election season — a plan that even dwarfed Hillary Clinton’s $250 billion policy proposal. But even after winning, Trump has never clarified where this money would come from or where it would go. Building a border wall, for example, is certainly infrastructure but would go nowhere to solving the deficits described in the report.
A pair of Trump’s advisors, Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro (both of whom are set to or have since obtained positions within the administration) did release a policy paper in late October, proposing that $153 billion in tax breaks could be given to private developers to incentivize them into managing toll roads and other profit-generating projects at the initial cost of $1 trillion. But critics have noted this approach would likely only help line the pockets of developers who had already intended to build their projects rather than encourage new projects, and it wouldn’t pay for needed bridge repairs and other less-profitable projects.
Despite earlier promising to hammer out a meatier infrastructure plan within 100 days, the latest indication from the White House is that any major steps forward will have to wait until 2018, according to the Washington Post. And though Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and even Bernie Sanders have indicated that they’d be willing to forge a bipartisan plan, that also appears to be up in the air. The Democrats’ own $1 trillion plan, though supposedly funded through tax loopholes, would probably force Trump to renege on his promise that any infrastructure deal wouldn’t raise the deficit.
At the end of the day, no plan advanced by either party comes close to matching the financial resources the ASCE has desperately pleaded we need.