Bob Davis: Our bridges and roads well traveled
Mar 31, 2013 | 2937 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steven Brooks, of Sullivan, Mo., tries his hand at fishing on the downstream side of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26 in Alton, Ill., from the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. Photo: The Telegraph, John Badman/The Associated Press
Steven Brooks, of Sullivan, Mo., tries his hand at fishing on the downstream side of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam 26 in Alton, Ill., from the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. Photo: The Telegraph, John Badman/The Associated Press
In his State of the Union address in the middle of February, President Barack Obama said, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire — a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet; high-tech schools, self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America — a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina — said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And that’s the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”

That’s not to be confused with Obama’s remarks in the 2012 State of the Union, “So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges. A power grid that wastes too much energy. An incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.”

Nor should it be confused with President Bill Clinton’s 1993 State of the Union, when he called for congressional investments in “our roads, bridges, transit facilities; in high-speed railways and high-tech information systems; and in the most ambitious environmental clean-up of our time.”

Can we assume Washington is brimming with ideas on how to modernize our infrastructure that is invariably described as crumbling, right?

Well, not really.

Last week, same-sex marriage garnered much of the political world’s attention as the Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday. Meanwhile, Republican politicians were coming to terms with the long-term electoral implications of their stance on illegal immigration. And Obama and Democrats were realizing that their plans for sweeping gun-control laws were too much of a stretch.

Infrastructure barely moved the needle.

The big exception is at the American Society of Civil Engineers. Earlier this month it released its one-every-four-years Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Since ASCE began its grading, the results have been pretty dismal. The composite has hovered near failing. The good news is that the overall grade is better this year; the bad news is it’s only slightly better, up to a D-plus.

Still, the report’s authors count it as progress, noting that “when investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise” and “several categories benefited from short-term boosts in federal funding.”

More work remains, according to the report. “While the modest progress is encouraging, it is clear that we have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding sources to avoid wiping out our recent gains.”

How bad is it? Here are some examples:

• “The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise.”

• “There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).”

• “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one-in-four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site.”

• “Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial flights were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy.”

• “In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years.”

• 42 percent “of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually.”

• “Public school enrollment is projected to gradually increase through 2019, yet state and local school construction funding continues to decline.”

By 2020, according to the report, the nation will need to spend $3.6 trillion to improve the current grades, which are frankly unworthy of a nation that wishes to remain a first-rate power.

Incredibly, there’s more discussion over who will run for president in 2016 than the condition of our roads, bridges and the rest when that man or woman becomes the nation’s 45th president.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.
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