The United States infrastructure is not very strong. By many rankings and reports, infrastructure in the U.S. needs to be improved. According to the Global Competitiveness Rankings from the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks eleventh in the world for infrastructure, and The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a “D+” for infrastructure. The United States falls short in all areas of infrastructure; highways, bridges, ports, and the power grid are a few portions of the infrastructure that need to be improved.
To start, U.S. highways are not properly funded or maintained. According to an article from The Economist, the United States loses $100 billion per year due to traffic jams, and the ASCE gave the U.S. a “D” for its roads. A major source of funding is the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund has two main purposes: it supports projects relating to the interstate system and road construction, and it funds mass transit projects. The fund finances about a quarter of all public highway and mass transit spending across the nation. The Highway Trust Fund is paid for mainly with a federal gas tax, however the gas tax is becoming less effective. The federal fuel tax is not indexed for inflation, and it hasn’t been increased since 1993. Also, greater fuel efficiency and an increase in mass transit and car-pooling have decreased revenue brought in by the tax. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund is running a deficit. A bill passed in December 2015 covers this gap until 2020. If a solution is not reached by then, the fund will be unable to pay states. All projects would then come to a halt.
Bridges and dams are also in need of much repair. Ten percent of U.S. bridges are considered deficient, and the age of the nation’s average bridge is 42 years. ASCE rates American bridges at a “C+”. In 2012, nearly 14,000 dams were considered high-hazard, and the average dam is 52 years old. The ASCE gives the U.S. a “D” for its dams.
The nation’s power grid is also inadequate. Much of the power grid was built about fifty years ago when Internet access wasn’t necessary and electronic devices were a luxury. Now, these things are a necessity for businesses. Roughly $150 billion is lost to power outages each year. The equipment is aging and being used at its maximum capacity. ASCE estimates that about $107 billion is needed by 2020 to maintain the power grid.
Not only is there a lack of funding for infrastructure, but there is also a major problem with the way funding is spent. Money is often used to finance new projects rather than being used to repair existing infrastructure. For example, an article written by Angie Schmitt in February 2015, found that between 2004 and 2008, 43 percent of funding for roads was spent on repairing existing roads while 57 percent of funding went to expanding and creating roads. However, existing roads made up 98.7 percent of the nation’s roads, and just 1.3 percent of the nation’s roads were new. Essentially, just 43 percent of the funding was spent on 98.7 percent of roads, while 57 percent of the funding was spent on just 1.3 percent of roads. Clearly, funding is not smartly allocated.
Politicians and interest groups have proposed several different plans to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure system, and I’ll discuss these plans in future posts.