Attack of the killer massive infrastructure failure

Ransom Riggs

Infrastructure didn't do so well this year. It's been falling asleep in class, hanging out with the wrong crowd and not studying at all -- and its report card reflects it. But seriously: ever since the tragic Minnesota bridge collapse and the NYC steam pipe explosion, we've been asking questions about our national infrastructure, trying in vain to predict the next spectacular structural failure. Turns out the American Society of Civil Engineers' Infrastructure Report Card is a fascinating little document, as well as a frightening one: our nation's bridges got one of the best grades on the card, a C. Heck, bridges get a lollipop compared to some of its lower-scoring brethren, such as:

Dams: D
There are 3,500 "unsafe" dams in America, most of them state-owned. It'll cost $10 billion over the next 12 years to fix those which "pose a direct risk to human life should they fail."

Drinking water: D-
Across the nation, enough clean, treated drinking water to serve the population of the state of California - six billion gallons - is lost every day, mostly due to old, leaky pipes and mains. What's more, combined sewer overflows, which are discharges from sewers that carry both sanitary sewage and runoff from streets, parking lots, and rooftops, discharge 850 billion gallons of raw sewage annually into rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. Ewwww ... and worse still, federal funding for wastewater management was cut by 33% last year.

Roads: D
All you have to do is look at rush hour traffic in Los Angeles to know that things aren't going so well in this department. Every year, Americans -- not just Angelenos -- spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, at a cost of $63.2 billion a year to the economy.

Navigable Waterways: D-
This isn't one we think about too much (who wanted to be a barge captain when they grew up?), but check this out: "A single barge traveling the nation's waterways can move the same amount of cargo as 58 semi-trucks at one-tenth the cost--reducing highway congestion and saving money. Of the 257 locks on the more than 12,000 miles of inland waterways operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, nearly 50% are functionally obsolete. By 2020, that number will increase to 80%. The cost to replace the present system of locks is more than $125 billion." Since most people don't even know what a waterway lock does, rallying up $125 billion to fix them probably isn't much of an election-winning campaign promise.