Lack of spending on infrastructure projects by state and local governments threatens us all. According to Vice, “spending on infrastructure is at its lowest since 1947.” In its latest assessment of the country’s infrastructure, the American Society for Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+.
Infrastructure projects include spending to repair and maintain airports roads, bridges, and transit projects. Much hinges on having funds available for these projects. Many projects are in a seemingly permanent state of limbo. For example in NYC, construction on the Second Avenue Subway line, which would ease overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, has been repeatedly delayed by economic downturns and political in-fighting.
Another critically needed project, the FAA’s NextGen, which would switch air travel from radar-based to satellite-based flight-tracking technology, and reduce delays by 35%, has been sidetracked by funding questions. The FAA is currently debating with the airlines about how much they should contribute to the cost, which is a reported $20 to $27 billion.
But while infrastructure projects are discussed in fiscal terms, there are more human costs to lack of funding them. Most recently, in Flint, Michigan, the human costs of crumbling infrastructure became apparent when it was found that the entire population has been exposed to lead poisoning through contamination of the water supply by corrosive pipes. The state recently declared a state of emergency over the water problem, after widespread exposure to lead.
Flint’s problems began in April 2014 when the city decided it would draw its water from the nearby Flint River instead of the Detroit water system. It was a cost-savings measure implemented by a non-elected, state-appointed emergency manager. The decision reveals the dangerous application of short-term thinking to large-scale problems that require investment to make right.