From the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis 2007, to the considerable anguish caused to American families by the Flint water crisis, examples of America’s crumbling infrastructure are all around us. The American Society of Civil Engineers – a trade group that represents the trained professionals, many with master’s degrees in civil engineering from online engineering colleges and top-tier universities, are responsible for infrastructure. They have made clear that America’s infrastructure is weak or failing in four key areas: roads, rail, aviation, and water.
While federal and state governments have spent considerable sums of money building interstate highways in past decades, 42 percent of America’s major urban highways are congested. These high levels of traffic congestion on American highways cost $101 billion in wasted time and fuel each year. Congress recently passed a highway bill with more money for urgent maintenance. However, the amount spent by federal and state governments today falls far short of what is necessary to actually improve road conditions.
Amtrak, the United States’ primary passenger rail company has made considerable improvements in achieving a state of good repair and better service. At the same time, freight operators have dramatically increased private investment in their railroads. However, the amount of money being spent improving rail infrastructure is still not keeping up with how fast the system is aging, leading to delays and system failures all over the country.
With air travel volumes continuing to increase, American airports simply do not have enough capacity to keep up. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, congestion and delays at airports in the United States has an annual cost of $20 billion to the economy. Worse, this figure is projected to grow in the coming years. While the FAA has invested heavily in a new air traffic control system, Congress has not dedicated enough money to helping improve physical infrastructure at airports.
The Flint water crisis laid bare the sagging and dangerous state of America’s water infrastructure. Pipes and mains in America’s cities are aging rapidly. This presents both the prospect of dangerous contamination, as occurred in Flint, and more routine problems like water main breaks. As the crisis in Flint showed, problems with water infrastructure can turn deadly.
America’s infrastructure is crumbling. Civil engineers continue to make major advances in fixing problems, but more resources are needed to ensure that the United States’ road, rail, aviation, and water infrastructure meets acceptable standards.