Washington State police officials are reporting that the collapse of a bridge over the Skagit River 60 miles north of Seattle was caused by a truck with a too-tall load striking the upper part of the span. Although there were only minor injuries, many feared a repetition of the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured 145. This latest incident, coupled with Washington State receiving a C- grade for its bridge infrastructure, should serve as a reminder of the infrastructure deficit in the United States.
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 infrastructure report gave Washington a C- for its bridge, more than a quarter of which are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and an overall infrastructure grade of C. Despite two inspections and repairs last year received 47% sufficiency rating, well below the average of 80 for the State’s C- grade bridges, and was deemed “functionally obsolete” by the Federal Highway Administration in 2010 and 2000, meaning that its design is outdated. In 1992 the bridge was categorized as “structurally deficient” and replacement was recommended.
Nationally, the United States is no longer in the top 20 countries with the best infrastructures. One in nine bridges are structurally deficient and a the Federal Highway Administration estimates that highway investment between now and 2028 will need to double in order to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficiencies. The nation’s bridges received a C+ grade, which eerily represents the second highest score of the 17 categories graded.
Some in government and the press have taken up the cause. On Wednesday Rep. John Delaney of Maryland introduced the bipartisan Partnership to Build America Act that would use repatriated corporate earnings and public-private partnership to rebuild America’s transportation, energy, communications, water, and education infrastructure. Public investment in infrastructure has been dropping as a percentage of GDP, falling to the lowest level in two decades.
In 2011, CNBC produced the series “Race to Rebuild: America’s Infrastructure” to highlight the infrastructure problem and discuss possible solutions.
As the American Society of Civil Engineers explains, “Infrastructure has a direct impact on our personal and economic health, and the infrastructure crisis is endangering our nation’s future prosperity.”
The implications of infrastructure are so vast that even the Council on Foreign Relations has released a report saying that the situation is dire: “The most recent six-year highway bill expired in 2009, and Congress has been unable to agree on a new multi-year bill since then,” the report says, “Since the mid-1950s, federal gas tax revenues have been deposited into the Highway Trust Fund and then allocated to states for transportation improvements. But the gas tax is not tied to inflation and has not been raised since 1993. At current spending and revenue levels, the trust fund will be insolvent within two years.”
Infrastructure drove America’s growth in the 20th Century, and with both the America’s economy and lives at risk, initiates such as those of Rep. Delaney should be a priority in Congress.