On the evening of May 12, 2015 an Amtrak train derailed just outside of Philadelphia. What we know is that 8 people died. What we know is that over 200 people were injured. What we know is that it is the deadliest train crash in this country in 7 years. And what we know is that another tragedy will happen. It is only a matter of time.
What we also know is that this country has a $3.6 trillion infrastructure deficit. That means that the United States needs to spend almost $4 trillion before 2020 just to repair and maintain the current decrepit and crumbling infrastructure of the so-called greatest nation on Earth. This multi-trillion dollar figure does not include a single new bridge, new highway, new airport or new railroad system. What we are talking about is the most expensive patch and repair job in history.
It is a damn shame that of the 83,000 dams in this country, almost 10,000 of them are considered to be high risk. Over 50% of the dams in this country are over 50 years of age and it is only a matter of time before some monstrous dam disaster inundates a huge swath of this country killing countless Americans and costing countless billions of dollars.
And while we are on the subject, there are over 300,000 miles of federal highways and major roads in this country. According to the Federal Highway Administration 45 percent, or 135,000 miles of these roads that carry families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table are considered to be not in good condition. And more than 71,000 of this country’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient and 78,000 bridges are rated as functionally obsolete. These are roads and bridges that carry the families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table. It is more than logical to assume that when it comes to the next tragedy, it is only a matter of time.
And as anyone with a car knows, poor road conditions are expensive, costing American drivers $67 billion per year – an average of $335 per motorist. And the Associated General Contractors of America estimate that the construction industry loses $23 billion annually due to delays caused by traffic congestion.
The problem with these statistics is that they tend to anesthetize the public instead of rousing people to action. There are so many signs of the decay and deterioration of the American infrastructure that all one has to do is visit an American airport, ride on an American railroad or be aware of the fact that some of the water pipes in its greatest city – New York – are made of wood and were built by the Dutch centuries ago. Yet the statistics and the actual personal witness of decay have not been enough to move this country in the logical direction of rebuilding its infrastructure before a cascade of tragedies and disasters leave us all in endless rubble and wholesale carnage.
It is a fact of history that this country has not been invaded by a foreign power since the War of 1812. With the exception of a few harmless Japanese balloon bombs in World War II and 9/11 of course, the United States has been remarkably untouched by the wars of the world. And ironically, it is this fact of history that has resulted in this country having critical infrastructure components that are many times more than a century old.
Every major country in Europe suffered widespread devastation during World War II. Japan, China and Korea were subject to bombings that left the major cities of those countries in ruins. As a result, just about every aspect of these countries had to be rebuilt – airports, shipping terminals, factories, power plants, dams, railroads, bridges, highways and housing – all had to be replaced. And they were replaced with 20th century technology making it easier for transitions into the 21st century.
Yet, as this incredible infrastructure disparity oozes into plain view, infrastructure repair and replacement is simply not in the current political discussion. Social issues, trade agreements and foreign policy are of incredible importance. But so is this country’s infrastructure.
The Teapublicans see infrastructure expenditures as just another item to be sacrificed on their No-Tax altar. Democrats fear the “tax and spend” label so much that many times they stand mute as this country literally collapses before our very eyes.
And so we mourn the loss of life in Philadelphia with the very clear knowledge that this will not be the last time that lives will be lost due to the damaged and decrepit American infrastructure. It is only a matter of time.