The Flint disaster can happen in your city too

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their last infrastructure report card in 2013 and gave the United States an overall D+. This country’s infrastructure is in dismal shape, which means many people have been, are being, and will be harmed in some way, be it via a bridge collapse, poisoned water, crumbling schools, sewage or oil leaking into the ground or homes (yes, sewage leaking into the home has happened to me (in New Jersey) and to my parents (in Indiana)), and sadly, the list goes on.

Investment in infrastructure is imperative to prevent it from collapsing all around us. Failure to do this not only poses great safety risks to the public but is also a drain on our economy. Investment doesn’t mean using taxpayer dollars only—private-public partnerships should be sought. Infrastructure must be better regulated too. Some may scream there is too much regulation and perhaps on paper that is true, but time and time again it is revealed post-disaster that systems and equipment were not being adequately maintained or regulated. Prioritizing penny-pinching and profit-seeking over people’s safety should never be an acceptable way to operate.

The Flint, Michigan, water situation could have been avoided. It is an example of the devastating consequences when poor governance, lax oversight, minimal to no accountability to the public, poverty, austerity, and aging, unsafe, or contaminated infrastructure collide. The Republican Governor with his mania for austerity and appointing emergency managers (in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, to name a few) has contributed a good deal to this crisis—and yes, he did, no matter how much some people want to spin it. Governor Rick Snyder asserts that Flint’s water crisis was only brought to his attention in October 2015. Even if that proves to be true, why did he wait three months before taking any action to right this wrong? Continue reading


$2 Trillion—America’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Iraq War

The American government chose the Iraq War in March 2003. Convinced Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction based on cherry-picked evidence, a war-hungry administration aided and abetted by most in Congress—from both political parties—and the mainstream media, invaded Iraq. This war was supposed to end quickly with the U.S. being hailed as liberators and celebrated by the Iraqi people for their new-found freedom at a mere cost of only 50 to 60 billion American taxpayer dollars.

The reality of that misadventure is quite different. Ten years later, the financial cost of that war is $2 trillion and climbing. The repercussions have been devastating to American and Iraqi lives, economies, and infrastructure. $2 trillion spent on pre-emptive war could’ve been used in more constructive and moral ways right here in the United States.

American Society of Civil Engineers logo

American Society of Civil Engineers logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assesses the state of infrastructure in the U.S. Their 2009 Report Card estimated it would take an investment, both public and private funding, of $2.2 trillion to repair and modernize the country’s infrastructure—roads, bridges, tunnels, water and sewage systems, parks, schools, energy, rail, aviation, etc. The overall grade given to American infrastructure was a D. This is a serious crisis—one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, the ASCE released their 2013 Report Card. The results remain dismal though there was slight improvement. The good news is that the country’s D has risen to a D+. The bad news is that the investment needed by 2020 is $3.6 trillion. Drinking water, solid waste, wastewater, bridges, rail and roads are the areas of improvement since 2009. You can see the grade given each category here.

To understand how critical infrastructure improvements are all one needs to do is recall events such as the levees breaking in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, or the bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007, or more recently, Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast, devastating municipalities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, revealing structural vulnerabilities throughout the region. The bottom line is that failing infrastructure weakens our economy.

Investing money in infrastructure projects not only improves the economy, allows for goods and services to be transported efficiently and reliably, protects communities and people, but also creates jobs–now.  Fareed Zakaria, experts at the Brookings Institute, and others have proposed establishing a national infrastructure bank, set up as a public-private partnership, just for this purpose, with the stipulation that legislators are forbidden to include any pork barrel projects.

However, with the current composition of our government and the ongoing debt ceiling and budget deficit fights in Washington there is neither the will nor the urgency to address this critical and dangerous problem. $3.6 trillion is a staggering price tag, but the infrastructure crisis is a solvable one. The ASCE report provides specific solutions, but here are three broad ones:

  1. Increase leadership in infrastructure renewal
  2. Promote sustainability and resilience
  3. Develop and fund plans to maintain and enhance America’s infrastructure

It is estimated that war financing—including interest and medical and disability benefits to veterans—will continue for decades at a cost of $6 trillion. We are still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis and conservatives are loath to make investments in American infrastructure, which will help the economy by putting people to work and creating safe, efficient land, air, and water routes to support and transport people, goods, and services.

Americans must focus on priorities that will strengthen this country for future generations, as prior generations did for us. These investments will create jobs, maintain and improve our quality of life, insure the safety of drinking water, bridges and roads, transform the power grid, and provide safe and toxic-free environments in schools and parks.

Andrew Herrmann, P.E., former President ASCE says in this video, “Infrastructure is what binds our country together.” All this costs money, yes, but it is an investment. In the end, it will save money and lives as well as lift our infrastructure quality to the level of other industrialized nations. Although the U.S. is ranked 7th overall in global competitiveness, it is ranked 25th in the infrastructure category in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 edition

Remember: $2 trillion and counting… If you include Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s closer to $4 trillion. U.S. infrastructure cannot afford another Iraq.

2013 Report Card 

ASCE 2013 Report Card Videos 

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