Report

The State of the Union — Crumbling

  • January 16, 2008
  • By Eric Kelderman

The numbers are staggering. More than one in four of America's nearly 600,000 bridges need significant repairs or are burdened with more traffic than they were designed to carry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A third of the country's major roadways are in substandard condition — a significant factor in a third of the more than 43,000 traffic fatalities each year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Traffic jams waste 4 billion hours of commuters' time and nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline a year, the Texas Transportation Institute calculates.

Dams, too, are at risk. The number of dams that could fail has grown 134 percent since 1999 to 3,346, and more than 1,300 of those are “high-hazard,” meaning their collapse would threaten lives, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) found. More than a third of dam failures or near failures since 1874 have happened in the last decade.

Underground, aging and inadequate sewer systems spill an estimated 1.26 trillion gallons of untreated sewage every year, resulting in an estimated $50.6 billion in cleanup costs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Much of America is held together by Scotch tape, bailing wire and prayers,” said Donald F. Kettl, director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.

Fixing these problems and others threatening the nation's critical infrastructure would cost $1.6 trillion — more than half of the annual federal budget, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates. And that doesn't include what it will cost for new capacity to serve a growing population.

Read the full report The State of the Union — Crumbling on Stateline.org's Web site.