Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Crumbling of America

The Marker for the Silver Bridge Collapse (Pt. Pleasant WV).
We have a serious problem in the United States.  It is crumbling beneath us.   It is literally falling apart.  The slow decay of time, use, and abuse, without modification, repairs, or outright rebuilding.  As of 2013, last year the United States had what is considered a failing grade.  If you are interested it was a D+.  
The grade on dams was a D.  The average age of every damn in the United States is 52 years old.  This is about the human age where people are trying to ensure they have enough money to retire on.  Old enough where they are unable to work because they are worn out.  Dams are the same, years of stress, breakdowns, fixes, and water passing through and or over take their toll on everything.  While 4000 of these damns are considered deficient, a minority, the majority of these deficient damns are in high hazard areas, where a large number would be impacted should the dam fail.  

Out drinking water also scored a D, and that was an improvement.  Scary thought, but get this, most of the pipes running our water are older than my father and I combined.  In some areas they are well over 100 years old.  Sure the tap water in the US is higher than many other countries, the water pipes carrying the water fail, and fail often.  Nearly a quarter of a million breaks in a given year.  And when these pipes break, the water becomes contaminated with whatever is around them.

As for hazardous waste storage, that is also a D.  It turns out that one in four Americans (25%) live within three miles of a Superfund site.  Yeah, those are the places that all the really nasty stuff gets stored.  We are getting it cleaned up, but lets face it, the budget is underfunded to do it and do it right.

The levees... Ah, I remember the sites of New Orleans flooded.  Well, the levee situation is actually worse than the hazardous waste storage problem (Grade D-).  Which is the lessor of two evils, neither.  Superfund site floods, that is a mess I do not want to see.  The problem, we have over 100,000 miles of levees and they are located in all 50 states of the Union.  We have no real idea of their conditions.  They are like our dams, they are old, and since we do not inspect them, we simply do not know.

One of our better outings in infrastructure is solid waste.  While we produce around 250 million tons of the trash a year, we also recycle 85 million tons of it.  While not perfect, we are finding a way to get rid of the trash, without leaving it sitting in a landfill.  The other good news, our trash is staying steady, it isn't really decreasing.

Now we have the sewer problem.  Again this is a D grade.  We need to expand the sew systems, improve treatment plants in order to prevent overflows, which is the major problem.  There is nothing quite like sewage backups flowing into your home.  Trust me, if you have never experienced it, do not add it to your bucket list.

Ah, the joys of air travel, new slim line seating, removing restrooms so more people can be added to the flight.  Delays in flights caused by congestion and otherwise delayed flights will continue to cost the economy.  Aviation as a means to travel got a D.

As you cross that bridge, remember it might be one of nine that is structurally deficient.  Then again, the average age of the bridge you are crossing is forty two.  For that bridges in the US get a C+.  Inland waterways received a D-.  The locks, and dredging channels are all in disrepair, and they have not been upgraded in sixty years.  Making matters worse, of half of the locks in this system are over fifty years old.  The Ports in the United States got a C.  Given that 95% of all goods sent from this country or brought into it go through a port, they need to be maintained, upgraded and expanded to cope with the increase of traffic.

The Rail system saw the greatest improvement in the United States (C+).  It was heavily invested in, and is showing positive results with more freight and passengers using the rail system.  A few more tweeks and more rebuilding, with the addition of high speed rail lines would be a huge boon for the rail system.
Roadways scored a D, as 42% of all roads in the United States are suffering from congestion, or are falling into disrepair.  This costs the economy over 100 billion dollars a year.  Public Transportation also received a D.  45% of the people in the US have no access to public transportation, and millions more have access to inadequate transportation.

Parks across the board remain unchanged (C-).  More money is needed to keep these parks open on both a state and federal level, as such maintenance backlogs run between 11 and 18.5 billion dollars.  Schools are the same.  Nearly half of the schools in existence in the United States are as old as the baby boomer generation.  These people are getting ready to retire from the workforce.  The true condition of schools is unknown, as records have not been kept in over a decade.

Our energy grid ranked a D+.  Some of the electrical grid is over 130 years old.  There needs to be massive upgrades to or outright replacement of the electrical grid.  It is recommended that we increase high voltage capacity, and oil/natural gas pipelines needs to be increased by 17,000 miles.  This does not take into account the need for alternative energy sources, nor does it discuss communications (land line, cell phone, internet, television, etc.).

Want to fix the economy, take a page from China, start building infrastructure.