Our Rotting Infrastructure

By Amos Kenigsberg|Thursday, April 27, 2006

The American Society of Civil Engineers' latest report card on the United States' infrastructure, from roads to hazardous-waste systems, gives the country a D and warns that rotting infrastructure poses risks to safety and growth. The society urges wholesale changes.

  1. Increased R&D. Even modest gains in the efficiency of construction and repair could yield huge overall savings. Tom Warne, chairman of the Transportation Research Board, says federal funding in the 1990s yielded innovations like the Superpave system, a technique for making durable, location-specific asphalt mixes.
  2. Unconventional funding. Governments and builders should embrace alternative infrastructure-related sources of revenue, such as leasing public roadways. In 2004 Chicago netted $1.8 billion by leasing the Chicago Skyway, a 7.8-mile toll road, to a private consortium for 99 years.THREE
  3. Design-build contracting. Engineers and contractors should work together closely, rather than having engineers sketch out designs for contractors to build. This approach helped Utah finish the $1.5 billion I-15 project in less than five years, in time for the 2002 Olympics.
  4. Long-term planning. States draw up multiyear budgets; Washington spends in fits and starts. A federal fund designated for long-term infrastructure projects would "encourage an investment philosophy," the society says.
  5. Yes, taxes. When gasoline was $1.60 a gallon, the society called for a six-cent-per-gallon levy to fix roads. Congress demurred. With gas at $2.40, six cents now seems meager—and it is needed more than ever.
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