Monday, June 30, 2008

The cracks are showing

The Economist: …For the past few years it has been hard to ignore America’s crumbling infrastructure, from the devastating breach of New Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big bridge in Minneapolis last summer. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to be 70% greater than in 1998. By 2050 America’s population is expected to reach 420m, 50% more than in 2000. Much of this growth will take place in metropolitan areas, where the infrastructure is already run down.

If America does not act, says Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a body that plans for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region, it will have the infrastructure of a third-world country within a few decades. Economic growth will be constricted, and the quality of life will be diminished.

….How can all this be fixed? In January a national commission on transport policy recommended that the government should invest at least $225 billion each year for the next 50 years. The country is spending less than 40% of that amount today. Yet more important than spending lots of money is spending it in better ways.

The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, recommends that America focus on metropolitan areas, or “metros”, the top 100 of which account for 65% of population and 75% of economic output. “America 2050”, led by the RPA and a committee of scholars and civic leaders, has a similar scheme for “megaregions”, or networks of metros. The federal government should do what it can to ensure that these areas, first of all, have the infrastructure they need to thrive….

The I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, taken in August, 2007. Photographed by Mike Wills, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative CommonsAttribution ShareAlike 2.0 License