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14 Infrastructure Areas the U.S. Needs to Fix Before Tragedy Happens

Photo by mtellin

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its annual report card about the health of the nation's infrastructure, giving the United States an overall grade of "D+" and stating that $3.6 trillion in investment is needed by 2020 to avoid catastrophes that could cost lives and cripple local economies. Not only would this investment protect lives, it also would boost job creation at a time when the economy is still struggling to get back to full employment. Here are 14 of the most critical areas the United States needs to invest in before it becomes too late to prevent needless deaths, according to ASCE.

1. Inland Waterways: The inland waterways, a key part of our freight network, carry the equivalent of 51 million truck trips annually, but much of the system hasn't been updated since the 1950s. An average of 52 service interruptions a day are caused by aging locks and dredging them isn't done often enough. These conditions delay products getting to market and drive up costs.

2. Levees: The 100,000 miles of levees in the United States protect farmland and developed communities and are vital for public safety. Many of the levees are aging and the National Committee on Levee Safety estimates that an investment of $100 billion is needed to make sure they stay safe.

3. Aviation: The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that the cost of airport congestion and delays across the country is about $22 billion annually and will more than double by 2040 if federal spending remains the same.

4. Dams: More than 4,000 dams across the country are considered deficient, with half of those falling in the "high hazard" category. It is estimated that upgrading these dams will cost $21 billion.

5. Drinking Water: An estimated 240,000 water main breaks happen in the United States each year and the cost to replace the aging pipes is more than $1 trillion, as many of them are more than 100 years old.

6. Hazardous Waste: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one in four people in America live within three miles of a hazardous waste site. Annual funding to clean up Superfund sites is $500 million short of what is needed each year, and nearly 1,300 sites remain on the National Priorities List. More than 400,000 brownfields sites still waits for cleanup and redevelopment.

7. Roads: The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion is needed on an annual basis to maintain and improve the country's roads and highways, far above the $91 billion currently spent. More than $100 billion is wasted in time and fuel each year because 42% of America's major urban highways are congested and the roads need repairs.

8. Schools: More than $270 billion is needed to modernize and maintain America's schools, half of which were built for the generation that is now entering retirement. Meanwhile, school construction spending is half what it was before the recession and still declining while enrollment continues to grow.

9. Transit: Our public transit systems are deficient and deteriorating as they get older and they face funding deficiencies that are leading to service cuts and fare increases. Meanwhile, one-third of America's workers do not drive cars, 45% of people lack any access to transit and millions more have inadequate service, yet ridership has increased more than 9% in the past decade.

10. Wastewater: Investment in needed improvements to the wastewater and stormwater systems in the United States is estimated to be $300 billion over the next 30 years.

11. Energy: The electrical grid that powers much of the United States is old enough that some of it was originally put in place in the 1880s. Issues such as permitting, weather and limited maintenance have contributed to a growing number of power failures and interruptions.

12. Ports: A total of 95% (by volume) of all U.S. overseas trade move through ports, despite the fact that federal funding to maintain ports has declined in recent years. Current infrastructure may not be enough to keep up with ports if the country doesn't invest in expansion.

13. Public Parks and Recreation: More than 140 million people in America visit the nation's parks and outdoor recreation areas every day, supporting more than 6 million jobs and adding $646 billion to the economy. These facilities face nearly $20 billion in unmet needs.

14. Bridges: Deficient bridges in the nation's 100 largest regions are crossed 200 million times a day. More than 10% of the bridges across the country are rated as structurally deficient and the average age of each bridge is 42 years old. It is estimated that $20.5 billion a year is needed to upgrade our bridges by 2028, while we're currently only spending $12.8 billion a year.

President Obama gave a speech this week that called for more infrastructure spending, but it remains to be seen if Congress will act to meet these critical needs in a timely manner.

ASCE has a list of ways that concerned citizens can get involved in moving the country forward on these issues.

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