The infrastructure of a nation is what holds civilization together. It includes roads, water supplies, sewers, electrical grids, and telecommunications — things without which the world might prove a difficult place to navigate. While Americans enjoy a better infrastructure than many places in the world, the reality is that it is outdated, inefficient, and — in many places around the nation — currently crumbling to pieces.
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Story by Jennifer Lynch
Sadly, things are only going to get worse before they get better, as roads fill with potholes, bridges collapse, and electrical grids brown out with more regularly, all unable to provide for the needs of the populace. If you had any doubts about the sad state of the American infrastructure, read on to learn just how bad things really are.
- More than 25% of bridges in the United States need significant repairs or are handling more traffic than they were designed to carry.
This translates to a whopping 150,000 bridges that aren’t up to snuff. In recent years, bridge and overpass collapses have even led to death. One of the most notable of these was the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed in 2007, killing 13 and injuring 145. If bridges are not updated or repaired, these kinds of accidents could become more common.
- An inefficient, heavily overburdened electrical grid results in rolling blackouts and losses of $80 billion a year.
In a world that relies heavily on technology for everything from health care to business, losing power can be a big deal. In the past decade, huge blackouts have left much of the Northeast and Florida without power for several days. This costs money, time, and can create unsafe conditions for residents.
This means that they have deficiencies that leave them more susceptible to failure, especially during flooding or earthquakes. The number of dams in the United States that could fail has grown 134% since 1999, and now comprises 3,346 dams nationwide. More than 1,300 of these dangerous dams are considered “high hazard” because their collapse could threaten the lives of those living nearby.
- More than a third of all dam failures or near-failures since 1874 have happened in just the last decade.
The rate of failures is increasing at a disturbingly fast rate, as America’s dams age and deteriorate. Can’t remember any recent dam failures? In 2004, 30 different dams in New Jersey’s Burlington County failed or were damaged after a period of particularly heavy rainfall.
- Nearly a third of all highway fatalities are related to substandard road conditions, obsolete road designs, or roadside hazards.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that poor road conditions play a role in more than 14,300 traffic fatalities each year
- By 2035, highway usage (and shipping by truck) is expected to double, leaving Americans to spend an average of 160 hours a year in traffic.
If you think traffic is bad now, just wait a few years. Over the next quarter-century, experts estimate that traffic on American roads is going to be much, much worse. Commuting between work and home could be a nightmare for many, taking up nearly a week of time over the course of the year. Also, keep in mind that this number is just an average, and in high-traffic urban areas, the estimates are much higher.
- More than half of America’s interstate miles are at 70% of traffic capacity, and nearly 25% of the miles are strained at more than 95% capacity.
Americans love their cars, and the roads are clogged with drivers as a result. Much of the interstate system in the U.S. is struggling to keep up with the number of people who use it each day, leading to traffic jams and accidents at much higher rates.
If you hadn’t already noticed that the streets in your city were littered with potholes and cracks, this stat will let you in on the secret: American roads are falling apart. With many states teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and unable to keep up with maintenance, this situation isn’t likely to change soon.
- Traffic jams caused by poor transit infrastructure cost Americans 4 billion hours and nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline a year.
Highways designed to carry fewer cars that they’re currently managing, poorly timed lights, and awfully-designed transit systems all help contribute to traffic jams. These jams keep drivers on the road for longer, wasting gallon upon gallon of gas and hour upon hour of time
- A study by the EPA exposed the dirty truth about America’s aging sewer systems: they spill an estimated 1.26 trillion gallons of untreated sewage every single year.
Not only is this a health and environmental concern, but it’s also a financial one. Cleaning up these spills costs an estimated $50 billion every year.
- The United States must invest $225 billion per year over the next 50 years to maintain and adequately enhance roads and other transportation systems to meet demand.
Currently, the U.S. is spending less than 40% of this amount, which will make it impossible to effectively keep up with and expand the transit system.
- In 2005, U.S. infrastructure earned a D rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This was down from a D+ in 2001 and 2003.
It’s no joke that the infrastructure of the U.S. is getting worse and worse. In some areas, quality of water, electricity, and roads have been compared to those of a developing nation. Major changes need to be made to keep up, modernize, and allow America to remain competitive in the world market.
- By 2020, every major U.S. container port is projected to be handling at least double the volume it was designed for .
Imports and exports are major, major business for the U.S., and in the future, this isn’t likely to change. Yet the ports we use to do our trading are going to be seriously overloaded and will need a major overhaul to adequately deal with the number of ships coming in and out.
- Costs attributed to airline delays related to congestion and outdated air traffic control systems are expected to triple to $30 billion from 2000 to 2015.
Sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off or deplane isn’t just annoying — it’s costing businesses billions of dollars each year. The amount of time lost or wasted on flights is continually rising, up to 170 total years (15 minutes lost on 1.6 million flights) in 2007 from just 70 years lost in 2003.
Railroads are a viable, if not quick, means of transporting people and goods the world over — but in the U.S., many lines are painfully inefficient and falling apart. While money is being poured into modernizing train systems (most notably high speed rail on some Amtrak lines), much more will be needed to keep pace with the amount of rail traffic in coming years. Not to mention everything it will take to make rail travel an appealing option to notoriously phobic Americans.
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Story by Jennifer Lynch