Infrastructure action needed for America to prosper

Cincinnati.com
By Tony Klimek
August 12, 2017

I saw our country’s historic commitment to infrastructure and its impact on our economy during a recent 332-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. via the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal tow path trail.

The C&O canal provided transportation for goods and people and spurred economic development westward along the Potomac River. The GAP railroad supported the coal and steel industries in Pittsburgh and the Ohio Valley.

The C&O canal and GAP railroad were built during the 19th century when our country’s leaders worked together for the common good of our nation. Engineers used their expertise to meet technical challenges such as the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O canal; it was an engineering feat that is still in place today. All along the C&O and GAP trails were evidence of economic opportunities and prosperity generated by this infrastructure.

As technology developed, this infrastructure was replaced by interstate highways, more efficient railroads, airports, and other transportation systems in the 20th century.

To be successful in the 21st century we must maintain and upgrade our infrastructure.

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card (www.infrastructurereportcard.org) gives our nation’s current infrastructure an overall grade of D+. The Report Card evaluated 16 categories including roads, bridges, dams, and inland waterways. Data was collected for each of these categories to assess their condition, and capacity to meet current and future needs.

The grade for America’s roads was a D. Approximately 40 percent of our urban interstates are congested; associated traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition.

The overall grade for our nation’s 614,387 bridges was a C-plus. Almost 40 percent of our bridges are 50 years old or older and approximately 9.1 percent, or 56,007, bridges were structurally deficient in 2016. Many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of their design life. Our bridges are in need of $123 billion of rehabilitation.

In Ohio, almost 2,000 bridges are rated structurally deficient and 17 percent of roads are rated in poor condition. The average Ohio motorist spends $475 a year on their vehicles fixing damaged incurred on poor roads. The Brent Spence Bridge is a clear example of the issue; it is functionally obsolete and motorists using it consistently experience long delays.

The Report Card shows that the condition of our infrastructure impacts our economy and quality of life. Poor roads and airports increase travel times and costs and reduce productivity. Inadequate water and wastewater treatment systems have negative impacts on our environment and health.

The United States is on track to invest only half of what is needed for our infrastructure over the next decade. This under investment will result in a loss of 2.5 million jobs and $3.9 trillion in GDP by 2025. American households will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies.

Our challenges are solvable and can be met through investment, leadership, and a forward looking approach.

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