If London Bridge falls, it likely will have lots of company. Much of our infrastructure is approaching the ripe old age of eighty. How bad is it? They tell us that 63,000 bridges are structurally unsound. How are we supposed to get from here to there? At least we have a number . . . of the bridges. Federal funding has declined.
The number of derelict bridges alone presents us with a daunting problem. But, it isn’t just the bridges alone. You probably don’t wish to be on one of those bridges when it collapses. Maybe you could plan to be on one that isn’t collapsing at that particular moment. Congratulations. You avoided all 63,000 bridges. Careful. You’re still in jeopardy.
Not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities. Not a single U.S. airport is among the top 100 airports in the world. Our infrastructure is a shambles. The idiots in Washington fret that we can’t afford fixing the problem. That’s true, when we barely have enough for tax cuts for the parasites, welfare for corporations and the military capability to kill everyone that doesn’t like us.
Falling bridges are only a part of the problem. There’s more, much more. So, just what are we speaking of with that single word, infrastructure? How do I need you? Let me count the ways.
Alphabetically, let’s begin with aviation. The computers and other equipment isn’t as current as I would prefer. Many airports could use refurbishing, modernizing, even expansion. Except in the aftermath of 9/11, passenger traffic has only grown. We are already bursting at the seams. Federal funding has declined.
I’ve alrady mentioned bridges.
Let’s move right along to dams. There is one that is close enough to me to cause massive disruption and damage around me, unless the repair work they are engaged in is successful, and timely. But that’s a temporary fix on one relatively small dam. The average age of the 84,000 dams is 53 years. Many of these dams were classified as low-hazard, protecting agricultural lands. However, residential development with its population increases below many of these dams changes the equation. I have difficulty seeing the dam that concerns me as low-hazard. Federal funding has declined.
Drinking water. Water, water everywhere. Will there be enough that’s potable? This may be the most important part. While we can endure perhaps a month or more without food, at least some of you can, you will die in as little as 3 or 4 days without water. If it’s not drinkable it could either take you out even faster or do permanent, long-term damage. Federal funding has declined.
How about energy? Our power transmission grid is old. It’s inefficient. It’s wasteful. It’s primitive. Need you be reminded of a couple of major regional blackouts? The interruptions and failures are increasing in nubers. We have the technology to avoid that. But, electricity is but one form of energy. When places like Oklahoma now have more earthquakes than California, shouldn’t we ask why? It’s not the only place where fracking is going on. And there is the pollution involved in bring it out of the ground. The spills of rail tankers. The bursting pipes. Federal funding has declined.
The people making money from fossil fuels have the answer to our need for more energy. More fossil fuels. More fossil fuels. Because we are rapidly depleting them and they are a significant factor in global warming, we don’t need to be delaying a change to alternatives. Are we just going to wait until we reach the point of no return for the climate and total depletion to change? That would be irresponsible. That would be stupid. That would be being gullible enough to trust the self-serving lies of the oil industry.
Our handling of hazardous waste is not something I have heard a lot of bragging about. Whether nuclear, chemical or biological, much, perhaps most, is simply stored. Some of our storage methods do little more than concentrate the danger. The National Priorities List still has 1,280 needing to be cleaned up. More sites will be added to the list as they are identified. Those are just the sites that qualify for the Superfund, the funding for which Congress feels needs to be cut even further.
Beyond Superfund sites there are more than 400,000 sites known as brownfields waiting. The EPA estimates that 25% of us live withing 3 miles of a hazardous waste site. Perhaps you should put your home up for sale fairly soon. It might not bring a decent price after they discover some corporation saved money by dumping where your house was built. Federal funding has declined.
You and I may not give too much thought to inland waterways but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Nor, does it mean it is cheap to remedy. We have spent tons of money on levees and still can’t claim much success. In fact, what some see as success just greatly increases the problem for those living downstream.. Keeping water within these artificial banks upstream adds to the amount that floods areas with no or inadequate levees. The entire system needs rethinking.
You don’t see any wakes in this picture of boats. That just means they aren’t going anywhere. They are in line, waiting their turn to go through the locks. It’s boring waiting for the water level at each lock to rise, then fall, then rise again. And, those locks aren’t always large enough to get them all at once. Besides boring, it’s wasteful. Those boats don’t make too much money sitting there looking pretty. Someone will have to pay more for their cargoes. You? Federal funding has declined.
The problems of our ports are manifold. Most immediately, how many of those containers in the picture will receive even a cursory inspection? That’s the Port of Los Angeles. Most of those containers are coming from Asia. Not every country in Asia is friendly to us – our money, yes; us, not so much.
Then there is the problem of capacity. The population grows. Trade grows. The number of ships increases. The ships get bigger. The ones already in service make the Titanic seem little more than a rowboat.
Norfolk is the world’s largest naval base. Rising sea levels already bring very frequent flooding to the port and the town. New Orleans is next on the list. Next comes most of the ports on the East coast. My guess is that rising sea levels will require a massive response at our ports. Perhaps we should include Las Vegas, Atlanta and Dallas in planning. Federal funding has declined.
Parks and Recreation. It’s more than a television series. As the middle class shrinks we tend to include more affordable destinations for our vacations and holidays. Parks and such have always been on our lists but they appear to be climbing in importance. I guess that’s why Congress keeps cutting back on funding for them. There are only so many things they can cut to ensure the 1% get their tax cuts and corporations get their welfare benefits.
Maybe we should include Arlington and other national cemeteries among our shortened list of destinations. Congress doesn’t usually cut them as much. The Bureau of Land Management has some places in Nevada that we could visit but we would have to share with Cliven Bundy’s grazing cattle and those macho militiamen pracing around with their exterior, assault
Traveling by train used to be a great experience. I used to travel between Detroit and Chattanooga, back when Choo-Choo Town actually had passenger service. I traveled from New York to Chicago on the 20th Century Limited. Then from Chicago to Oakland on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, which didn’t even go to Santa Fe. Accommodations were not quite as nice on the rest of that trip to Korea.
Passenger service is little more than a memory here but flourishes in more civilized countries. We admit that rail is an efficient mode for freight. Passenger service could be too, were it not for the oil and auto corporations. The private companies invest in their part of the infrastructure so, for freight, this is an area where we aren’t as deficient.
Rail is the forbidden alternative to highways. But, the economy is so weighted in the favor of highways that it’s possible for our
prostitutes politicians to refuse adequate funding for roads and still leave us without alternatives. The costs to the automotive public in damage to their precious Pontiac, Plymouths and Packards is never considered when the clowns in Washington bother with the budget.
It’s estimated that we need to provide capital outlays of at least $170 billion annually to make significant improvements.
Public transit is inadequate in some places, a bad joke in other places and essentially nonexistent for most people. Congress has the solution: reduce funding.
Schools. Fair warning on this one. My wife is a retired public school teacher with 40 years experience. I am amazed at all of the expertise we have available from people who have no actual experience teaching. Used car salesmen, lawyers, stay at home moms, real estate agents and other, similarly unqualified buffoons are never reticent to display their ignorance. We continue to ruin a system that we used to take pride in. And we house this mess in inadequate facilities.
I was flabbergasted last year to hear of the high school in Texas that built a $60 million football stadium. The citizenry voted for the bond issue with 63% in favor. A couple of weeks ago came news of that facility. It is condemned. Both the design and construction were faulty. Extensive cracks are appearing. For $60 million, they could have hired a couple of more teachers. The school could have boasted of academic achievements. Instead it brags of a state football championship for a school of their particular size in a state that has nothing else to brag about.
With school administration and funding so divided and scattered, we really only have estimates for how much is spent building and maintaining schools.
I preceded the baby boom but about half of our schools were built for those boomers. The rumor is that they are now retiring. That suggests that at least half our schools are old. While we need at least $270 billion to modernize and maintain our schools, in 2012 we spent $10 billion. I take that as evidence we are not serious about the futures of those we endlessly call our most precious resource. Bullshit. Govrernment funding at all levels has declined.
This article doesn’t really scratch the surface. It just points to the surface. There are even more parts of our infrastructure. The picture is not a pretty sight.
I’ll close with just a couple of statistics about my own state. Tennessee has 1.195 structurally deficient bridges. It has 300 dams that are classified as high-hazard. That’s out of a total of 661 dams. The department responsible for dam safety has 8 full-time employees. That more than 82 dams per employee. The budget is $362,146. Those are hardly numbers to brag about.
The people of the United States constantly, ad nauseam, proclaim this the greatest country in the world. They just don’t want to take care of it. Delusion will probably last until the dam breaks or the bridge collapses. Even that will only wake up a few.
Fixing the problem requires investment, commitment and people to do the work. That’s sometimes known as jobs.
The conservatives say we are leaving a burden of debt for our grandchildren and need to cut the deficit. So, they give tax cuts to benefit their friends and corporations. The recipients of those tax cuts benefit by adding debt for the grandchildren. Were the debt used to rebuild infrastructure, the grandchildren would still have debt to pay . . . but they would be benefiting from that spending. The conservatives are either stupid or self-centered hypocrites or both.
Much of the data used here came from the 2013 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure by the ASCE, American Society of Civil Engineers. They care. Congress doesn’t.