America's Infrastructure Really Is Crumbling

bridge collapse

America’s infrastructure is crumbling, literally.

In 2008, the collapse of the I35W Mississippi River Bridge during Minneapolis rush hour traffic cost 13 lives and injured 145. It brought the condition of the nation’s infrastructure, an unsexy topic, to the media spotlight.

A failing infrastructure cannot support the nation’s economy indefinitely.

Yet while there has been plenty of attention paid to infrastructure, the Obama administration has given it short shrift, instead pouring money into other, short-term things.

The American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report card of the nation’s infrastructure every four years. Their most recent, released in 2009, reveals 15 weak points that need a mind-boggling $2.2 trillion over the next five years to be fixed.

America’s Crumbling Infrastructure –>

Drinking Water

Grade: D-

A leak sprung in an underground concrete tunnel that is part of New York City's mammoth water supply system in 2008. It leaks up to 36 million gallons a day and has created a marshland the size of a football field in upstate New York.

Total Investment Need: $255 billion

Inland Waterways

Grade: D-

Inland waterways, including the Mississippi River, are ageing and neglected. They are vital shipping cargo along river routes and move $73 billion worth of goods each year.

47% of all locks maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers became functionally obsolete in 2006. By 2020, eight out of 10 locks in operation now will be outdated.

Total Investment Need: $50 billion


Grade: D-

After hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the nation's levees were revealed as a weak point. About 9% of known levees are expected to fail during flooding. But more worrying, there is no record of how many unknown, privately owned levees there are and their condition.

Total Investment Need: $50 billion


Grade: D-

Traffic jams and roadway conditions cost billions and hours of productivity as Americans spend about 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. About 36% of major highways are heavily congested.

Total Investment Need: $930 billion


Grade: D-

The American wastewater system discharges billions of gallons of untreated waste into surface water each year, and is in need of a tune-up.

Total Investment Need: $255 billion


Grade: D

Anyone who's been stuck on the tarmac before takeoff knows the necessity of modernizing the outdated air traffic control system. Air travel is expected to grow by 3% annually.

Total Investment Need: $87 billion


Grade: D

The average dam in the United States is 51 years old. There are 4000 deficient dams, and 1,819 dams that are potentially hazardous.

Total Investment Need: $12.5 billion

Hazardous Waste

Grade: D

Toxic waste sites in the US are in need of cleaning, even as the federal government funding has decreased. Brownfield sites--abandoned lots and industrial areas that have leftover traces of pollution--in 188 cities are waiting to be cleaned up.

Total Investment Need: $77 billion


Grade: D

Schools have been suffering budget cuts as states face increasing debt burdens. In this climate, school infrastructure is the last consideration. Classrooms are chronically overcrowded, and the conditions of the buildings that house the nation's schools are unknown.

Total Investment Need: $160 billion


Grade: D

Unlike New York, few places in the US are as well connected by public transit. In fact, only 25% have a 'good option' for public transit, and 50% don't have access to any bus or train.

Total Investment Need: $265 billion


Grade: D+

Stimulus spending has given the smart grid reinforcement program a boost. The demand for electricity has risen at rates not been matched by the infrastructure needed to generate, transmit, and distribute it.

Total Investment Need: $75 billion

Public Parks & Recreation

Grade: C-

The nation's parks bring $730 billion per year to the economy, and still the acreage of parkland per resident in urban areas is decreasing.

Total Investment Need: $85 billion


Grade: C-

Freight and passenger rail share the same network of tracks, creating bottlenecks in traffic and long travel times. But train travel is highly fuel-efficient and passenger rail demand is growing.

Total Investment Need: $63 billion


Grade: C

Interstate 35 in Minneapolis collapsed tragically at the height of the rush hour in 2008, dramatically revealing the state of the nation's bridges. More than one in four bridges is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in the US.

Total Investment Need: $930 billion

Solid Waste

Grade: C+

The amount of solid waste the U.S. generates has remained steady for the last 20 years while recycling has increased. The problem lies in the increasing amount of electronic waste--computers and such--and places to put them where they do not cause hazardous heavy metal pollution.

Total Investment Need: $77 billion

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