Fractured Priorities - USA Gets a D in Infrastructure

Fractured Priorities

USA Gets a D in Infrastructure

kodama cc

Civil Engineers Deliver the Bad News

Michael Collins

"The overall grade for the nation's infrastructure is again a D
and the cost to bring it up to good condition has risen to $2.2
trillion. In more than a decade, the
United States has
made no measurable progress in improving either the condition or
performance of our roads, bridges, water systems or other vital
infrastructure when viewed in aggregate."

American Society of Civil Engineers, 2009 Report Card on U.S. Infrastructure

Read it and weep.  This the nation's infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
We're not doing too well.  Maybe our fearless leaders of the last 40
years forgot their glasses or got into some of that Indian Hemp that
George Washington talked about.   Without any doubt, they were not
paying attention to the fundamentals.

While Wall Street gangsters raided the Treasury and Bush-Cheney
invested over a trillion in destroying then "rebuilding" Iraq, the
bridges, levees, power grid, and other vital elements of the United
States infrastructure moved to a point of near collapse.

The Obama infrastructure
package contains $300 plus billion to start this repair process.  This
is the first comprehensive program for infrastructure since the mid
1950's and a down payment on the $2.2 trillion required for the entire

Here's what we face according to the association representing engineers who will get the job done.

Welcome to the future -- if we fail to act

Port Huron,
Michigan offers a glimpse of the future if we fail to act on thevial
repairs to the infrastructure of the United States.  mdprovost cc

Rush hour, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Aug. 1, 2007

The I-35 West Bridge collapsed in rush hour on August 1, 2007.
Rescuers rushed to the scene.  Poppyseed Bandit cc

This Minneapolis bridge collapsed at rush hour.  Thirteen died, over 100 were injured, and the city was stunned.  The National Transportation Safety Board found that poor design and neglectful maintenance were the culprits in the easily avoidable tragedy.

"More than 26%, or one in four, of the nation's bridges are either
structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. While some progress
has been made in recent years to reduce the number of deficient and
obsolete bridges in rural areas, the number in urban areas is rising.
 A $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve
current bridge conditions. Currently, only $10.5 billion is spent
annually on the construction and maintenance of bridges."  ACSE

Here today, gone soon.  A likely dam collapse.

Wolf Creek Dam, near Manntown, Kentucky   jenniferrt66 cc

This dam tops the list of "most likely to collapse soon."  The Wolf
Creek Dam borders southern Kentucky and Northern Tennessee.  Its design
virtually guarantees a collapse.  The response:  "We estimated a range
somewhere between about 50 and 120 people, the loss of life -- people
who live downstream, and possibly fishermen or campers that may be down
there," (the Army Corps of Engineers) tells CBS

The Senators from Kentucky must think that neglect will somehow save this structure.

"As dam's age and downstream development increases, the number of deficient dams has risen to more than 4,000, including 1,819 high hazard potential dams.
Over the past six years, for every deficient, high hazard potential dam
repaired, nearly two more were declared deficient. There are more than
85,000 dams in the U.S., and the average age is just over 51 years
old."  ACSE


Not enough roads, too many cars and the "Metro" is empty

Washington, DC area traffic can be a nightmare even
on a "parkway."  With the traffic at stand still for hours a day, the
Metro trains rarely get a chance to do their job and relieve the
congestion.  Images - Left, haddensavix cc, Right Danny McL cc

How long does it take you to get to work?  In the Washington, DC
area, it can take 90 minute to go 20 miles at rush hour.  The high way
system is, in essence, a slightly mobile parking lot.  This jacks up
pollution, drains fuel efficiency, and frustrates a lot of people.  The
DC areas is not alone.  New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and
Atlanta are all competing for the worst traffic in the Western

"Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at
a cost to the economy of $78.2 billion, or $710 per motorist. Poor road
conditions cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating
costs, and cost 14,000 Americans their lives. One-third of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of major urban highways are congested.
The current spending level of $70.3 billion per year for highway
capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed
annually to substantially improve the nation's highways."  ACSE

Levees are in bad shape, but nobody knows just how bad.

"When the Levee Breaks" Greg

Here's what Katrina did to New Orleans levees.  They've had trouble
repairing levees even with all the money provided.   A wall of water is
just a major storm away for many areas across the nation.

"More than 85% of the nation's estimated 100,000 miles of levees are locally owned and maintained. The reliability of many of these levees is unknown.
Many are over 50 years old and were originally built to protect crops
from flooding. With an increase in development behind these levees, the
risk to public health and safety from failure has increased.' ACSE

Schools are in tatters in some places.

A lost school in rural Virginia.  taberandrew cc

"Spending on the nation's schools grew from $17 billion in 1998
to a peak of $29 billion in 2004. However, by 2007 spending fell to
$20.28 billion.
No comprehensive, authoritative nationwide data on
the condition of America's school buildings has been collected in a
decade.  The National Education Association's best estimate to bring
the nation's schools into good repair is $322 billion." ACSE

That's a steep price but what's the alternative?  The do-nothing
cult used to say, go back to the "three Rs" -- reading, writing, and
'rithmetic.  Since the tech revolution, they can no longer use that
homage to a time that never existed, so they complain bitterly about
spending but offer nothing as an alternative.

Can you see ... LA today?

Los Angeles Wes & Eli cc

Probably not, although it's still beautiful on a clear day.  In
addition to the home grown pollution generated by automobiles,
pollution has gone nationwide.  Smoke stacks in one state lift the
toxins up and the wind does the rest.  Note the unhealthy pines in the

Multi state pollution generator on an ineffective power grid

The Navajo Reservations power plant is scenic but toxic as well.
Is this what "clean coal" looks like?    bass nroll cc

"Demand for electricity has grown by 25% since 1990. Public and government opposition and difficulty in the permitting processes are restricting much needed modernization. Projected electric utility investment needs could be as much as $1.5 trillion by 2030." ACSE

We all require power and the power plants available are filthy. 
"Clean coal" is a myth.  Not enough people in the power structure are
looking to the sun or checking how strongly the wind blows across the
country.  Outmoded power infects every aspect of the deterioration of
infrastructure.  The plant above is now under EPA review for air pollution.

What if we don't fix things?

Image:  mharford cc

The roads, levees, power grid, damns and other key elements of our
infrastructure will soon reach a point of absolute tolerance.  After
that point, serious economic contraction will set in. Inter state trade
on a regional basis may become the preferred option due to the hazards
of just getting around the country.  State and regional conflict over
water and power will emerge pitting the "haves" against the "have
nots."  Imagine a trade war between the Great Lakes states and the
South over access to fresh water.  The notion of "United" will be
threatened by irresolvable conflicts between "States."  The results of
a cycle of continual shortage and competition for ever scarcer
resources may become irreversible.

The dialog on the stimulus plan, the first step to avoid a bleak future, is already polluted.  Opponents cited a fictitious Congressional Budget Office study and claimed there would be major delay in spending.  But facts were never their strong point.

The forces of denial and failure may have lost an election but
they're alive due to the Wall Street welfare program for their loyal
patrons.  Like sharks in a feeding frenzy, the Republicans were in lock
step unity in opposing the rebuilding effort.  Their alternative -- do

It is all so unnecessary, given some foresight and commitment.  But
as long as the cult of ignorance and mandated suffering persists in its
superstitious quest, we risk entering the perfect storm of no planning,
no regulation, and no action.  The future of the country is still in
the balance.


Permission to reproduce in whole or in part with
attribution of authorship, a link to this article, and acknowledgement
of images as indicated.

No votes yet


Just checking. :)

One of the intiatives in the Stimulus Package is a nation-wide smart, electric power grid. To my mind there are pluses and minuses here. I see it from my personal vantage point in Northern VA, there are several issues simultaneously at play. But first here  is some background to the local situation here that no doubt is being played out elsewhere.

The High Power Transmission lines were "mandated" by the Bush DOE and regulations were put in place extending the rights of utilities to eminent domain, and restricting the ability of local, regional and state political opposition to them. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included provisions establishing National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs) which give utility companies in NIETC's the right to use eminent domain to seize private property and build power lines.The government determined that Northern VA is in the Northeast NIETC last year. The purpose of these new high power lines is to generate power in the areas in W. VA, Ohio etc. where coal is mined and transport it on a national grid--for example from West VA through Northern VA to New Jersey.

Dominion Power has been engaged in a several years battle in Loudoun County about installing high power transmission lines. Initially they intended to run them next to a popular, scenic bicycle path. New luxury homes had been built on either side of the trail and some of the people who had purchased the homes had political clout with the Bush Administration. These people were up in arms about the threat to their property as were the users of the bike trail. Opponents suggest an  alternative proposal--to use underground cables rather than an overhead line. Dominion appeared to have finally accepted the compromise, but then the State Legislature (Republican dominated) weighed in by opposing the cables because their installation would be more costly. State Legislator Joe May and Congressman Frank Wolf both have led a spirited opposition to the above ground lines and supported cables; however they had each signed on to legislation authorizing the NIETC, so their position was commendable in some respects but not all.

Dominion has so far not invoked their rights under  NIETC with regard to the Loudoun section of the line, but it is a multi-state thing and a similar fight against the power lines has been going on in Pennsylvania. Dominion has threatened to use that authority if PA voted not to allow the proposed Dominion line run through the valley last year.

While Dominion is the major power supplier in this area, in Lovettsville (also in the County) Alleghany power is the supplier and they too intend to install high power transmission lines despite local opposition. It is inclear whether they intend to invoke the NIETC authority to seize land by eminent domain, therevy circumventing local zoning regulations etc..

Several  separate issues come together here that define the opposition to the above ground lines. People whose property values (and sometimes actual property) are threatened by installation of the lines because they are unsightly and also possibly dangerous to people living in their immediate vicinity. Environmentalists oppose the use of coal and want a rapid switch to alternate energy, and these lines will depend on coal generation. Putting the lines underground satisfies people who oppose the above-ground lines but does not answer to those who are urging a switch to alternate energies. Underground cable transmission protects the natural environment and does not devalue property--important objectives--but is netural on the question of alternate energy. EXCEPT THAT if we have any new power lines built then their will be a vested interest in maintaining the value of the investment, ie if the go from coal country that speaks to continuing to use coal as a source.

As far as I can see, Obama has incorporated a national electric grid using these high power transmission lines, into his energy program as as a potential delivery system for energy from wind farms and possibly also from large-scale solar installations. This is a component of the smart-energy grids. This is a part of his Recovery Stimulus Package. Presumbably he would support anchoring them to deliver power from massive wind and solar installations, rather than in coal mining country.

But environmental problems remain even so. What kind of lines will these be, above or below ground?Wind Farms also present environmental problems. They are extremely noisy. I think I have heard that the Danes have located them off-shore for that reason. Would it be feasible for a national grid system that transmitted high power electricity to be be run athrough underground cables? That would be certainly a big improvement. IMO there is another problem with above-ground lines, they are vulnerable to terrorist attack and also to major storms, and they are also vulnerable to computer malfunction. I was living in New York City when the memorable blackout occurred in the 1980s.