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Saving a Crumbling Infrastructure

Posted by: Diane Brady on August 1, 2007

With the Aug. 1 collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis and a massive steam pipe blast in New York City a few weeks ago, the state of this country’s infrastructure is worth some heated debate. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that more than 27% of the country’s bridges are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

Regardless of the cause of yesterday’s disaster, that stat should make people pause. And yet troubling signals of decay are emerging at the same time as local governments are increasingly offloading public assets to private investors. The private equity world loves roads, bridges and the like because they’re allegedly low risk. You get steady cash flow from monopolistic public services that seem destined to arrive fat because, well, they were built off public money. Nobody stops to think about mandatory investment or what happens if something seriously goes wrong.

My colleague, Emily Thornton, wrote a great cover story on the trend a few months ago. Check it out.

Is private money the answer? Some wonder if the political will is there to fix what may be unseen but critial problems in aging cities. A few more events like the ones of recent weeks, though, and it may soar up the public agenda.

Reader Comments

Brandon W

August 2, 2007 7:46 AM

Consider also the Great Northeast Power Blackout of 2003. After WWII and into the late 1960's the U.S. spent trillions in modern dollars building infrastructure that has had little upgrading - and in most cases minimum maintenance. Just like education and health care, we all want the world's best infrastructure but we're unwilling to pay for it. No one likes heavy taxes, me included; however, if we had been a little more responsible for the past 50 years we wouldn't be facing crumbling infrastructure, declining education, and failing health care. We're paying for our thoughtlessness, shortsightedness, and irresponsibility.


August 2, 2007 9:34 AM

The challenge is that, once you privatize something, it isn't always run as a public good. Witness what happened with Atlanta's water system. Nobody doubted that it was poorly run when they sold it eight years ago, but things got worse in private hands. Governments can't wash their hands of responsibility for basic infrastructure.

Bob Berke

August 2, 2007 3:06 PM

Questions: Are the damages to the Minnesota bridge likely to have any impact on Mississippi transit of midwestern farm products, considering harvest is only one month away? If so, should we expect a one-two punch of rising food prices to accompany skyrocketing fuel prices?


August 2, 2007 9:53 PM

Outside of Minnesota, this will be mostly forgotten in a couple weeks. Politicians will continue promising tax cuts, the infrastructure will continue crumbling and more publicly-funded sports stadiums will be in the works. When the party is finally over, future generations will be saddled paying for our greed and carelessness.


August 3, 2007 10:52 AM

I had been considering writing an article on this also.

So I found this one by searching for -

signs of failing country infrastructure decay

I had thought of this quite some time ago as I was driving down a regular county road. Taxes keep going up. And the wrong things keep being done with the money. Dozens of excessive cola raises for state, city and county employees (while non county ones wages stagnate).

The road i drove over while thinking this hasn't been fully repaved since i moved here 13 years ago. It looks like it's covered with spider webs over the entire 4 mile length of it from so many cracks being tarred.

In my opinion infrastructure is the first to go. And it happens so slowly that few notice. Look at mexican cities for example. You can see the decay because the rebuild process is very far in between. Something doesnt get fixed until it pretty much collapses, burns down, or people leave.


August 3, 2007 11:12 AM

Interesting. I read the article your friend wrote. Liens already have been put on tons of public land (check out the world heritage foundation) and the Leader of the UN stated 'we have no designs on taking American land' or something to that extent.

The tax money we pay that has been ment to cover this has been stolen by the federal reserve over the past 30 years and distributed out to 'investors' at the current rate of 300+ billion of our tax in come per year.

And now our country shall be sold to the highest bidder... piece by piece and allowed to decay even further.

I can see why poindexter came up with his 'disaster securities' idea as a feasible investment opportunity and how the government buried his idea immediately as absurd.

He wasn't being insane.
He was being realistic.
I originally thought he was talking about terrorist destruction and making profit off of it by properly investing like happened during 9-11.

What he was really talking about was exactly what happened with this bridge yesterday. It was the first of many small disasters that Poindexter knew were going to happen due to the massive infrastructure overhall that is needed but will never be done because we are too busy paving roads and making schools in Iraq.

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