By No Labels
We don’t think much about bridges—until they fail. So consider this: Of the 614,000 bridges in the United States, 40 percent are at least 50 years old, 10 percent are considered structurally deficient and Americans take an estimated 188 million trips across those deficient bridges every single day, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
When President Trump and members of Congress talk about an infrastructure bill, the need is both real and immediate. The discussion over infrastructure funding will increase in coming weeks, with lawmakers looking at federal, state and local money, as well as private-sector investment. Many think that this is an area where Republicans and Democrats can come together. Here’s what you need to know.
Bridges are not the only problem. An Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the U.S. has more than $4.5 trillion in needs through 2025 and is forecast to spend only about $2.5 trillion. That leaves an infrastructure gap of about $2 trillion. As the report puts it, “America’s infrastructure bill is long overdue.”
The funding gap is large for most every kind of infrastructure, from bridges and the energy grid to roads and railways. Our failure to invest in infrastructure isn’t just costing our economy. It is costing lives. For example, train derailments that killed 8 people in Philadelphia in 2015 and three people in Washington state in 2017 might have been avoided if the trains were outfitted with “positive train control,” a system that curbs speed to avoid collisions and derailments. The system was made mandatory by federal regulators, but is so costly that the implementation deadline was set in 2018.
Dams are another area most people would not think about. Yet there are more than 90,500 dams in the U.S. and the average age is 56, according to the report card. Roughly 15,500 are considered “high hazard,” which means a failure could harm people, and another 2,100 are considered deficient.
In his State of the Union speech, Trump called for $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, with a streamlined permitting process to get projects completed more quickly. This is an area where Republicans and Democrats will have to come together in order to pass a bill. The thin Republican margin in the Senate means Democratic support is required. And, while both parties generally support spending on infrastructure, there will be disagreement over how to approach it.
For example, Democrats are likely to want more federal spending while Republicans tend to prefer tax credits and other incentives to spur private investment. But there is no doubt common ground is possible if lawmakers are looking to find it. That’s exactly what the House Problem Solvers Caucus did on Jan. 10, when it released its own comprehensive bipartisan plan to revitalize U.S. infrastructure.
Infrastructure is a major piece of Trump’s legislative agenda for the year, too. “America is a nation of builders,” he said in his address, adding that, “Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”