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What is the State of the U.S. Infrastructure and how does it Affect the Economy?

What is the State of U.S. Infrastructure and How does it Affect the Economy

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The United States’ economy largely depends on its vast infrastructure network, ranging from bridges and roads to airports, ports, and freight rail. Not only does it drive growth and jobs but also facilitates enhanced connectivity and global competitiveness. 

The economists argue that the vigorous investments made in the 1960s  helped the American economy flourish. However, the current infrastructure has served for a long time and has suffered considerable deterioration. Some of the major infrastructures have reached the end of their life span, while others are overstretched.  

As a result, engineers have expressed their concern regarding the safety of bridges, transportation systems, water and wastewater systems, etc. Serious failures like dam breaches, bridge collapse, inadequately maintained waterways and roads could affect productivity.

A stable economic growth requires a reliable and efficient infrastructure system to provide the best services, and that is why Biden's spending plan aims at rebuilding and modernizing the country's infrastructure.

What is the State of U.S. Infrastructure?

The American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE), in its 2021 report card for America’s infrastructure, averaged the United States infrastructure a C-. The rating depicts that the country’s infrastructure as mediocre, has deficiencies, and needs attention.

1. Roads

A significant part of the entire U.S. road network, which is more than 4.1 million miles, requires repair work due to lack of maintenance and negligence.

This varies from one state to another; for instance, only 4% of Georgia's public roads need repair, whereas 93% of public roads in the District of Columbia are in poor condition and require urgent repair.

The required budget for road repair works is estimated to be around $126 billion. The American engineer, Henry Petroski, states that the cost of traffic congestion in the United States is approximately 140 billion/year.


2. Bridges

By and large, around 38% of the total bridges are in need of repair. All the deteriorated bridges might not be unsafe structurally, but they will reach such conditions unless proper maintenance operations are carried out.

There are around 616,087 bridges in the U.S., out of which 47,052 bridges are structurally deficient, and nearly 250,000 bridges need repair or replacement. The estimated investment required to repair all such bridges is $178 billion.

These bridges are crossed 170 million times/day by the American population, showing the importance of investment in repairing the bridges. 

For instance, a limited shutdown of the Hudson River rail tunnel in New York can easily cost the economy around $16 billion and 33,000 jobs, as per the Regional Plan Association.

Hudson Bridge

3. Airports

Regular flight delays show the poor condition of security and airport capacity in the country. The population of the U.S. has doubled since the construction of most of the existing airports. This has contributed to the underperformance of airports in addition to the deterioration of physical infrastructure that served for a long time. 

The cost of delays and avoided trips is around $35 billion/year. It is estimated that $157 billion are required to repair and improve airport capacity and security systems. It is necessary to invest in both new infrastructure and current maintenance systems to increase reliability and efficiency and decrease transportation costs.

4. Rails

The passenger rail system needs improvement to increase safety for the 32.5 million passengers/year using this medium. However, commercial rails run by private companies are in better condition, but their maintenance is still a herculean task, which requires a significant amount of investment. These works require an estimated budget of $33.3 billion.


5. Drinking-Water and Wastewater Systems

Engineers have also raised their concern regarding the deteriorating conditions of water and wastewater systems that jeopardize the lives of many. 

A drinking water system in the U.S. has been built and served for a long time. It has been reported that around 240000 water mains get damaged every year. This is why the probability of water contamination due to toxic materials such as lead increase substantially.

Some states, like Hawaii, make drinking water systems one of their priorities and have one of the best public tap waters, whereas Alaska on the other hand contains harmful contaminants in its drinking water supply.

The drinking water system needs approximately $1 trillion for its replacement along with the expansion of the drinking water infrastructure.

The United States’ growing population and its urban sprawl have put pressure on the infrastructure, and the wastewater system is no exception. The maintenance of the wastewater infrastructure is critical to environmental sustainability and public health.

It is estimated that the wastewater systems need over $270 billion in investment to repair, upgrade, and construct new wastewater systems.  

Wastewater Treatment Plant

6. Energy

The majority of transmission and distribution lines in the US were constructed in the 1960s. This infrastructure has existed for a long time, serving beyond its fifty-year life expectancy. Therefore, they are in need of urgent repair and modernization. Investment in renewable energy is important to improve energy infrastructure.

President Biden has proposed the American Jobs Plan, which will allocate $2 trillion for upgrading physical infrastructure, worker training, manufacturing incentives, and research and development. Additionally, the plan aims to improve in-home medical care for the elderly and people with disabilities, fighting climate change through the modernization of the electrical grid, and encouraging the adoption of electric cars.

To delve deeper into how this plan impacts the construction industry, click here.

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