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Infrastructure–How Bad is it Really?

Infrastructure–How Bad is it Really?

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Infrastructure report card

Last time, I discussed the failing state and inherent dangers to society of America’s aging infrastructure. This time, we’ll review the infrastructure report card compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The report is interactive and provides the status (with grade) of 16 different categories of infrastructure: schools roads, bridges, etc. Here are a few grades for infrastructure components that will most likely impact emergency managers:

Energy: D+
Levees: D-
Dams: D
Bridges: C+
Drinking Water: D

If you want more specifics, then you can dig into a particular state and read a narrative of issues facing that state.

If you like numbers, here’s a number that nobody is really going to like: In order to bring infrastructure in the US up to acceptable condition by 2020, an investment of $3.6 trillion will be required. That’s way too big an elephant to swallow in one bite, so creativity and innovation will be required in order to get there from here. Here are some ideas on how to go about it:

Energy

Since we have transitioned largely from public to private investment, let’s utilize that idea. Corporations love tax incentives, so let’s incentivize the conversion from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and nuclear. It would be zero or low cost to the US, because the corporations will find tax shelters for their investment dollars anyway. It would be profitable for the corporations in the long term, since they sell the power. Everybody wins.

Levees

This requires a public investment, but it has a positive rate of return. Per the report, it would cost approximately $100 billion to fully fix the levee system. Thanks to levees that did function properly, $141 billion in damages were averted in 2011 alone. The rule of thumb is that mitigation is less expensive than response and recovery by a ratio of 4:1. This would be a good investment.

Dams

The average age of dams in the US is 52 years. More than 2,000 of the 84,000 dams are at high risk of failure. The estimate is that it would $21 billion to repair the dams. However, as a society, we are coming to realize that while dams had their role in the development of society, their time is likely past. We are only now coming to the realization of the horrendous environmental damage that dams have inflicted, endangering species such as salmon that are a critical link in a food chain that enables us to survive. Although repairing all the dams is an option, the better option is to start taking them out, and the sooner the better.

Bridges

Bridges (and roads for that matter) have an additional problem to be concerned about. Because they are such high-use, heavily trafficked items, a one-time investment will not fill the requirement. Rather, an annual investment of $20.5 billion is required to keep up with the bridge requirement. Currently, we invest 12.8 billion. When President Eisenhower proposed the interstate highways system, part of his justification, and possibly the reason the concept was approved, is that it was based on national defense. The rationale was that our nuclear arsenal had to be built and transported around the country. Are things any different today? Today we influence other nations through our economic power, and our economic power is dependent on a functioning transport system, including roads that don’t cave in and bridges that don’t fall into rivers. Investment of some of our defense dollars in the transportation infrastructure sounds like an appropriate use of funds.

Drinking Water

The news about Flint Michigan keeps getting worse and worse. Now stories are starting to filter in from other municipalities that also have worrisome levels of lead and other toxins in their water supplies. In this area, the report is a little behind, talking about the number of water main breaks–about 240,000 per year, but calling the quality of the drinking water ‘universally high.’ The estimate for total replacement of the drinking water infrastructure is around $1 trillion. For this one, there are no easy answers. But that’s why we banded together as a ‘United States’ anyway, right? To accomplish together what none of us could accomplish individually. This will be the component that will require us to work together like no other.

Take a look at the report. It’s worth your time. For citizens of this great country, it will give you an idea of the issues that could impact your lives at any time. For the professionals, it will give you an overview of issues to consider when protecting the public. Happy reading.




American Military University

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