Is America too broke to maintain its infrastructure?

BY Karl Reiner

Due to tax cuts, unfunded wars and a housing bubble that resulted in recession, the U.S. government is mired in debt, unemployment is high and anemic growth dogs the economy. The consequences of the poor Recess 1policy decisions and the over allocation of resources to the housing sector are being prolonged by a Congress beset by gridlock.  The political uncertainty causes businesses to delay investment decisions, slowing the recovery even more.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a report card on America's maintenance and modernization of its infrastructure every four years. This year, the country got an overall grade of D+. It was up slightly from the previous dreary D.  Increased spending on bridges, drinking water systems, railways, roads, solid waste and waste water systems helped push the overall grade up a bit.

The ASCE believes the U.S. needs to invest $3.6 trillion in its infrastructure by 2020 in order to keep the economy competitive and functioning.  While engineers are prone to focus on building things, many other organizations agree that America is heading for trouble by chronically under investing in infrastructure.

The federal government's one-time investment of $100 billion in the 2009 American Recovery and Investment Act helped push the ASCE grade up. A total of $48 billion was spent on modernizing 350,000 Infr con 3miles of road, 20,000 bridges and 6,000 miles of railway. President Obama has asked for another $40 billion to be spent on the backlog of deferred maintenance.  He would like another $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank.  It would support projects by combining private and public capital.

The ASCE report is full of gloomy data.  Of the nation's 84,000 dams, 14,000 are considered to be high hazard; the price tag to fix them is $21 billion. About 100,000 miles of the country's levees are in worrisome condition.  There are 607,380 bridges in the U.S.  The average bridge is 42 years old. One in nine bridges is structurally deficient.  America needs to invest $20.5 billion annually in bridges.

Because infrastructure is the foundation of national economic performance, it can't be ignored. The U.S. needs to invest about $157 billion per year (through 2020) in its drinking water and waste water systems, electricity, airports, seaports and surface transportation.

Arizona has its share of infrastructure needs. The state has 142 dams in the high hazard category.  Arizona's schools have $6.4 billion in infrastructure funding needs. The state should spend $5.2 billion on its waste water systems over the next 20 years to keep them in shape.  Arizona's drinking water systems need an injection of $7.4 billion.

Of Arizona's 7,835 bridges, 247 are structurally deficient and 721 are functionally obsolete. As motorists can attest, 52% of the state's roads are in poor condition. The bad condition of the roads forces motorists to spend $887 million per year in vehicle repair costs. 

The Tea Party members of Congress should stop orating about economic theory and reducing government.  Real roads, bridges and other infrastructure items are the issue. They will have to be US Capitolmaintained if the economy is to grow.  Failure to keep America's infrastructure in shape will result in a GDP loss of over $3 trillion. Personal income could slide by an average of $3,100.  Consumer spending will drop by $2.4 trillion.  Over 3 million jobs will be erased.                 

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