On Sunday the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson went dark for 11 hours stranding 30,000 people and grounding over 1,000 flights. Terrorist looking to find the most vulnerable point in America’s airport network could not have hoped for a better guide than what just happened in Atlanta. In the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump said that flying into U.S. airports often felt like flying into a third-world country. On Monday in Tacoma, Washington an Amtrak train derailed killing 3 people and hospitalizing 77. In February 188,000 people were evacuated from the towns surrounding Northern California’s Oroville Dam after a massive hole was discovered. All 3 of these life-threatening incidents are signposts of future catastrophes to come, catastrophes that will devastate American life as we know it if politicians continue to play politics and ignore what’s truly important.
The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, topping a GDP of $18.6 trillion in 2016. The lifeline of an economic powerhouse as massive and diversified as the United States depends on a well-maintained network of highways, bridges, airports, and dams to prosper. Unfortunately, since the recession ended in 2009 America’s infrastructure has continued to be overlooked.
An estimated 17% of American dams — 15,500 in total — are categorized as high hazard potential, meaning their failure would almost certainly result in loss of life. 11.2% of roads are in poor condition ultimately leading to vehicle damage and traffic delays. Vehicle repairs, fuel, and wasted time cost motorists an estimated $272 billion in 2014. More troubling is the state of disrepair of bridges across the country as tens of thousands are classified as structurally deficient by the federal government.
A report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives U.S. infrastructure a D-plus. As we learned through the travails of Flint, Michigan residents, our drinking water systems aren’t so good either. More than 2 trillion gallons of treated drinking water is wasted each year through leaking pipes and water main breaks. The engineers say a large source of the country’s drinkable water, dams, are well overdue for upgrades. The average age of the country’s 90,000 dams is 56 years old, and there are more than 2,000 dams that are deficient and in danger of failing. The near-failure of the Oroville Dam in California has drawn some attention to this problem. America’s airports, school buildings and mass transit systems all rate grade D according to the Society of Engineers.
The estimated cost of repairing roads, bridges, and dams in the United States is projected to top $2.4 trillion by 2025. Other necessary infrastructure repairs, including railways, airports, and wastewater infrastructure would cost an additional $2.2 trillion. Bringing the total to $4.6 trillion to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and get it into a state of good repair by the year 2025.
A report released last year by the Society titled “Failure to Act,” says from 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies; and if not addressed, the loss will grow to an average of $5,100 annually from 2026 to 2040, resulting in cumulative losses up to almost $34,000 per household from 2016 to 2025 and almost $111,000 from 2016 to 2040. Currently, the infrastructure crisis costs each family $9 a day by investing $3 more a day per family until 2025, we could eliminate the costly investment gap.
Our elected officials are playing partisan politics and ignoring the coming catastrophes. Democrats are distracted by the pipe dream of impeaching Donald Trump, Republicans are obsessed with repealing Obamacare and granting tax cuts, while President Trump who campaigned on creating an infrastructure rebuilding plan to boost the economy has yet to suggest one. He’s too preoccupied with reversing all of former President Obama’s policy initiatives.
The rare occurrence of 2 major infrastructure calamities, the blackout at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and the Amtrak derailment, happening within 24 hrs of each other, both appearing to be non-terrorist related, is a warning that “Houston we’ve got a problem” with infrastructure and it’s a signpost of catastrophes yet to come!
Democrats, Republicans and President Trump must multi-task or in their case multi-politic and address our failing infrastructure. Our physical safety, our national security, and our nation’s economic health are all tied to the condition of America’s infrastructure.