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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.
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