I’ve argued for a long time that one issue that the Democratic party ought to jump onto with both feet is that of leading the charge to fix and improve the infrastructure in our cities, states, and nation.
Joel Kotkin called it “sewer socialism” and sign me up as one, because if there is a critical role for government to play, it’s here.
The levee failure in New Orleans points out both the cost of not maintaining our infrastructure…the levees failed because they were badly designed, built, maintained, and monitored – and also the problems inherent in building and managing infrastructure in a warren of Federal agencies, state government, and local bodies. At every level, attention is seldom paid – I mean what politician wants to dig into the details on things like sewer construction or road rights-of-way?
And it points out the pervasive haze of corruption, in which things like sewer construction and road rights of way are not driven by engineering needs, but instead become a part of the pork platter in which political connections matter more than competence.
Vaclav Smil has a column on infrastructure up at TechCentral Station; in it he estimates that catching up on infrastructure will cost the Pentagon’s budget for five years.
He cites a new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers:
The complete report makes for an extremely depressing reading as the only bright spot (increased waste recycling has cut the total volume of solid waste and waste-to-energy plants now consume nearly 20% of all garbage) is overwhelmed by a litany of degradations, failures, risks, backlogs, shortfalls and warnings. Just half a dozen bullets convey the overwhelming nature of the report’s findings:
* by the year 2000 27% of all bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
* investment in roads and bridges would have to increase by 94% in order to reach the projected cost of maintaining and improving the current level
* many sewer systems (some a century old) and water treatment facilities are well past their designed lifespan and while there is a shortfall of $ 12 billion a year to pay for their renewal, federal funding has remained flat for a decade
* total number of unsafe dams has increased by 23% since 2001, to nearly 2,600
* most states have just a decade’s worth of remaining landfill capacity
* half of all navigation locks work beyond their 50-year design span, inland navigation increased by more than 30% since 1980 but construction funding dropped by some 60%
Government keeps grossly underestimating the resources needed to stop a further slide. For example, the FAA put the cost of airport development and reconstruction at $ 6.5 billion a year but the American Association of Airport Executives sees the need for at least $12 billion a year during the next five years. Expectedly, the overall bill to fix these ubiquitous inadequacies and near-failures would be staggering. In 2001 ASCE put the cost of needed infrastructural renewal at $1.3 trillion over a five-year period; this year it raised the estimate by nearly 25% to $1.6 trillion. But the real cost is certainly much higher: ASCE total is just an aggregate expert estimate and a detailed inventory of needs would undoubtedly uncover more inadequacies and failures and, as with any large-scale projects of this kind, cost overruns on the order of 10-20% would be considered a success once the repairs were underway. Consequently, a more realistic total may be now at least $2-2.5 trillion and rising.
OK, fellow Democrats – want to take a stand on an important issue that will improve our lives, save energy and water, and create domestic jobs?
Let’s figure out how to get this done, and how to get it done without just tossing billion-dollar checks into the floodwaters of the Mississippi.