What’s Wrong With America’s Ambivalence About Crumbling Infrastructure?

In today’s New York Times, Bob Herbert celebrates the cause of infrastructure maintenance — a less exciting proposition for politicians than cutting the ribbon at new transportation projects, but in many ways more vital to economic growth.

structurally_deficient_bridges_co_2.jpgA crumbling bridge support in Colorado. (Photo: Pure Thinking)

After talking to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), an avowed booster of the National Infrastructure Bank concept, Herbert asks, "What’s wrong with us?" and continues:

We’re so far behind in some
areas that … Rendell has said that getting our infrastructure
act together can feel like “sledding uphill.”

“When I took over
as governor,” he said, “I was told that Pennsylvania led the nation in
the number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.
We had more than 5,600 of them. So I put a ton of money into bridge
repair. We more than tripled the amount in the capital budget, from
$200 million a year to $700 million a year. And I got a special
appropriation from the Legislature to do $200 million a year extra for
the next four years.”

One might be tempted to respond that what’s wrong with American infrastructure policy has much to do with pundits such as Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, who converts new acolytes in Washington by arguing that the biggest defect in national infrastructure policy is insufficient road spending. To O’Toole, the fact that one in four of U.S. bridges is rated obsolete or deficient is no big deal:

“Functionally obsolete” bridges are not in any danger of falling down;
they merely have narrow lanes, inadequate overhead clearances, overly
sharp on- and off-ramps, or other outdated design features. These
bridges pose no risk to auto drivers unless the drivers themselves
drive recklessly.

… "[S]tructurally deficient” bridges have
suffered enough deterioration or damage that their load-carrying
abilities are lower than when they were built. But that still doesn’t
mean they are about to fall down; though they may be closed to heavy
loads, the most serious problem is that they cost more to maintain than
other bridges.

When the debate stumbles on the mere question of whether deficiency is worth fixing — incidentally, the National Bridge Inventory states that deficient and obsolete bridges often contribute to congestion — it’s difficult to see a broad consensus emerging in favor of government spending to bring our built environment into good order. What Herbert didn’t address in his column, unfortunately, was how to carve out that consensus by talking in new and different ways about the importance of infrastructure investment.

Transportation reformers have talked up "fix-it-first" rules for roads, bridges, and transit, but that ideal often shares space with messages emphasizing the environmental, job creation, and efficiency created by more merit-based transportation spending.

Meanwhile, during the crafting of last year’s $787 billion stimulus law, no senator would offer an amendment to add "fix-it-first" to the bill. Lawmakers saw more to gain by passing the stimulus quickly than by creating a transportation section that could bring American infrastructure into a state of good repair. And until Washington senses a greater political imperative to create a safer, more modern transport system, what’s wrong with the nation in Herbert’s eyes is likely to stay wrong.

  • gecko

    Oversize vehicles amplify infrastructure costs and environmental impacts.

    Not including the weight of passengers, every bridge that has to support a 25-pound vehicle likely has an environmental footprint less than one hundredth that of a 2,500 pound vehicle (to keep the numbers simple).

    Since “Pennsylvania led the nation in the number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. We had more than 5,600 of them,” it is easy to see how this infrastructural difference amplified and adds up to be an enormous value in both environmental footprints and cost.

  • While I ardently support greater infrastructure investment, I actually have to side with the opposition’s arguments regarding the conditions of bridges. As far as I am aware, most failing bridges have been a result of design/construction errors and not lacking maintenance; or because they received loads which were never intended in the first place. I’ve actually felt like the media hype for bridges has diverted funds from other valid (and in my opinion more pressing) infrastructure investments.

  • Gary Newman

    every problem in this country including crumbling infrastucture can be traced directly back to the privaTe for profit non-federal no-reserve money from thin air money creation monopoly..a money creating cartel run by 12 private banking families that is destroying this country by design to make way for a one world government and money system..

    “the process of the creation of money is so simple it repels the mind” – John Kenneth Galbraith

    “when a government is dependent upon banksters for money,they and not the leaders of the government control the situation,since the hand that gives,is above the hand that takes…money has no motherland:financiers are w/o patriotism and w/o decency: their sole goal and object is gain” – Napoleon Bonaparte

    CAMPAIGN FOR STATE BANKS

    “if the American people ever allow private banksters to control and issue their currency, the people and their children will one day wake up homeless on the continent their forefathers conquered” – Thomas Jefferson”….
    the power to issue and control the currency/money, must be given back to the people to which it rightly belongs” – Thomas Jefferson….
    “private central banksters controlling the peoples money are more dangerous than standing armies” – Thomas Jefferson….
    time to END THE FED and big government for good..Ron Paul’s bill HR 1207 to audit the fed,will sadly do nothing,as the federal reserve lawyers will cook the books and make everything look just dandy..an audit of the fed is sadly a waste of time we have precious little of..
    ..the fed must be ABOLISHED..period
    and it can be done w/o nary a bill to get rid of it..with this new,honest,debt free,interest free, state banking money system,very much similar to Abe Lincoln’s greenbacks issued in 1862,and JFK’s silver certificates issued in 1963,the fed will die on its own accord..
    state run banks ARE the solution..a new interest free paper currency issued in each of the 50 states backed by silver,
    NO GOLD!..the banksters own nearly 96% of the worlds gold that they stole from the U.S. and the rest of the world with money they made from thin air on computers and printing presses! if we went back to a gold backed currency/money,the banksters would very quickly take back control of the money system!..soooo NO GOLD BACKED MONEY!..we had our money backed by gold in 1929 and the 1930’s..did it stop the great depression? NO!
    [ although gold would still retain a value 16-20 times greater than silver per the constitution]
    each individual state would make their own $1,$5,$10,$20,$50,and $100 paper notes backed by silver[ex: $20 Texas silver note..under that “payable to the bearer on demand $20 in silver [when presented at any state bank,you would receive either $20 worth of 90% silver coin, 20-.999 silver dollars,4 – 5 oz. .999 silver bars,or 2 -10 oz, .999 silver bars],and all 50 state paper notes would be accepted in every state and abroad..having 50 different notes for the 50 sovereign states would make it extremely difficult for the banksters to take back control of the U.S. money system again.. a dollar would be 31.1 grams of silver[ONE OUNCE] as per the constitution..change for the new paper notes would be pre-1965 90% silver again[only 90% silver with 10% copper is hard enough to take the day to day pounding/ movement/exchanging and hold up],and 100% copper again for pennies..a state run honest money/banking system with interest free loans run by the people.. for the people.. there would be only a small administrative fee/ cost, to borrow money to pay state bank employees and mgrs. etc.
    EX: you[or a small business starting up lets say ]were to borrow $205,000 for a $200,000 house/loan,you would pay back $205,000 over the next 5,10,or 15 years[ditto credit cards],instead of the present parasitic fractional reserve “debt money system” where you would buy a $200,000 house[or a $200,000 loan] and because of compounding interest, you would pay the private parasitic fractional reserve banksters nearly $1,000,000 over 30,40 or even 50 years for that original $200,000 loan that was lent money made from thin air..nothing in the first place..they didn’t actually “loan” you a dime!..THIS IS ABSOLUTE,UNADULTERATED INSANITY..
    paying the banksters for money made from nothing..it just blows you away when you think about it..its hard to wrap your mind around.. just like 9-11
    the private non-federal reserve is simply the greatest scam,fraud, and deception in the history of the world..bar none
    IS IT ANY WONDER MANY OF US ARE DEAD BROKE AND BURIED SO DEEP IN COMPOUNDING DEBT WE WILL NEVER GET OUT IN A LIFETIME??
    and living paycheck to paycheck?
    this isn’t living..this is [debt] slavery and many don’t even realize they are lifetime debt slaves of the banksters!
    it just doesn’t have to be this way!
    state controlled banks with “honest” money, will bring back manufacturing and real jobs!
    a nation that is prosperous MUST produce goods folks!
    3rd world countries don’t produce goods!
    the U.S.A.. IS in fact a 3rd world country now!
    a petition page will soon be up at WEB OF DEBT.COM
    where you can sign it and DEMAND your state
    implement state run banks! [unless you live in N.Dakota that already has state banks]
    ..BANKS AND “OUR” MONEY CONTROLLED BY WE THE PEOPLE..
    talk about PROSPARITY RETURNING TO AMERICA..
    imagine paying $500-$1,000 for a new car again..
    of course a new state bank silver dollar will have the purchasing power of a 1913 dollar..but we can start all over again as a nation,
    and bring ALL the troops home from abroad and have them protect OUR BORDERS! with 50 new sovereign state banks this country can be turned around in days
    not months or years, but DAYS!

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