Thursday, August 09, 2007

What About Our Infrastructure?


At an August 9 press conference, US President George W. Bush was asked whether or not he thought a proposal to raise gasoline taxes by 5 cents a gallon with revenue being used to solidify the safety of the nation’s bridges was a good idea.

He said “before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.

Some might say the President needs to examine his own priorities and perhaps study the nation’s infrastructure a little harder, that is if one takes a 2005 Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) seriously. That report found dangerous flaws not only in bridges, but in some of our most basic modern life lines. Those life lines are the backbone of our nation’s economy, the very nuts and bolts. The ASCE report warns that if more isn’t done to repair the nations bridges, roadways, water supply, electrical grids, dams among others, we potentially face disruptions in the way we get around, surf the web, fly in a plane, drink our water and as New Yorker’s learned yet again this week after a summer downpour, if and when we can take the subway.

The potential impacts of any type of infrastructure failure are clear. The nation’s economy relies on the transport of goods, services and people from point A to B. Blackouts are a real threat and when they happen, entire cities, even the nations largest, can come to standstill. Airports are more crowded than ever, as are our skies, safety on the runway is essential. Childhood nightmares of a dam giving way, walls of water gushing downstream, are more of a threat than ever. A number of states are sniping with one another over water rights as towns and municipalities secure a resource more precious than oil, water.

All of that may sound unnecessarily apocalyptic, but, as the recent horrific bridge collapse in Minneapolis proved, the potential threat to human life by crumbling infrastructure is real and some would say, in need of urgent attention.

For example, the 2005 ASCE report card said that in fact, 27.1 percent or over 160 thousand of the nation’s bridges are considered structurally deficient. The ACSE says it would cost around $9.4 billion annually for 20 years to bring all these bridges out of deficiency.

ASCE estimates it would cost around $1.6 trillion over a five year period to bring the entire national infrastructural system up to fully safe status. ASCE says that much of that money has already been allocated in existing budgets, but is continuously “raided” to be used in other programs.

While $1.6 trillion is somewhat hard to comprehend, so is the estimated $450 billion spent so far on the war in Iraq. Economists have estimated that the cost to taxpayers in that conflict would approach $1.2 trillion in the coming years. And, it would take more than a nod to or pronouncement of a figure to fully acknowledge and give due respect to the loss of life and sacrifice in American blood.

A great deal of the money has been used to rebuild infrastructure, some of which we helped destroy. But, there is one disturbing note, during a period from October 2003 until June 2004, $9 billion of the money earmarked for Iraq’s reconstruction, went un accounted for according to a 2005 Special Inspector General Report led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr. That was $9 billion that could have brought the states one year closer to safer bridges.

So, as we pour tremendous amounts of money into a nation, now teetering on the brink of a civil war we helped enable, can we also afford to sit idly by, while our economy’s most basic fundamental physical support system, its infrastructure, crumbles from within?

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