Fixing Our Infrastructure


Wreckage of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Wreckage of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last night during the State of the Union address, the president made mention a couple times about the importance of repairing our infrastructure. I shared some of my thoughts then, but I wanted to expand on it.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s infrastructure a D. Now that’s an average, and includes more than one D-. Our best grade is a C+, and that’s on solid waste disposal. Well, I guess if there’s one thing America is capable of dealing with, it’s a lot of crap. But everything else is a C or lower. The report card goes on to show that at present it will take about $2.2 trillion dollars to fix.

Now that’s a lot of money. That’s money we’d have to borrow, and would take our debt from $16 trillion, roughly, to about $18.2 trillion. It’s a bit more than a 10% increase in our debt, and it’s something we totally, completely, absolutely should do. Why?

First off, interest rates are insanely low right now. We’d have to borrow the money, yes, but at least we would do it at really stupidly low interest. It will never, ever likely be cheaper for us to borrow $2.2 trillion dollars than it is right now.

Second, fixing this problem will never, ever be cheaper than it is right now. Think of it this way: say you have a sagging beam in your house’s roof. Replacing it completely will fix the problem, but it’s going to be expensive. So you delay and do a minor bracing here and there, hoping that it will fix the problem enough. But it doesn’t, and one day, it goes out, taking most of your roof with it. Now you have an insanely expensive problem.

So it goes with our bridges, tunnels, roads, dams, sewers, Internet, cables, wires, etc, etc. As time goes on, the problems increase, and catastrophic failure becomes more and more likely. Paying a little right now to properly repair or bridges, tunnels, roads, etc, is better by far than paying a lot to replace them completely once they have their failures.

Third, come on. We’re America. We’re a first-world nation. We are the superpower of nations. And what happened in 2005? An entire city wound up underwater because of our poorly maintained levies. Then a couple weeks ago, during the Super Bowl, when the eyes of the world were upon that same city, half the stadium lost power. That’s in addition to things that don’t get much international notice. These infrastructure failures are freaking embarrassing, in addition to being expensive and frequently fatal. We can and should be doing much better.

None of this even touches on the fact that we need to do other things, like have high speed rail lines up and down the east coast, as well as from LA to places like San Francisco, San Diego, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Other countries have high speed rails along their most traveled corridors and we should, too. It not only looks better, but it’s better for the environment and very much more efficient than everyone driving or flying.

Basically, we really need to step up and spend the money to fix the problem. As I said, it will never, ever be cheaper to do than it is right now. Waiting is just foolish and an invitation to disaster. You think it’s bad when a bridge in Minnesota collapses? How about if the Hoover dam goes down? Or the Grand Coolie dam? Or one of the other major bridges over the Mississippi? We can prevent these things from happening, and $2.2 trillion worth of prevention is worth trillions more in cure.

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