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The Infrastructure Cliff: Why the U.S. Desperately Needs a $2.5 Trillion Upgrade
Highways and bridges will need trillions in upgrades if they are to survive for the next few decades. How can Washington budget it if the agenda is all cut, cut, cut?
When officials in Denver started drafting a strategic traffic plan a few years back, they concluded that the city no longer had the money to expand its roads to meet the surging demands. They would have to make do with what they had.
Denver’s planners created a board game, Right of Way, that was scaled to the city’s streets. It had cards that symbolized lanes for travel, parking, buses, bikes, mixed use, and medians. There were too many cards for the available space, so officials gathered community representatives to debate which sorts of lanes mattered most. To everyone’s surprise, the group worked out an agreement, one that the city council pretty much ratified. “In the absence of additional benefits, it’s all about trade-offs,” said Gideon Berger, who headed the Denver project.
Doomsayers’ warnings that China will overtake the United States in economic strength because of its snazzier airports and trains are surely overblown. But we shouldn’t minimize the task that our elderly infrastructure presents. Highways and bridges will need $2.5 trillion in upgrades if they are to survive for another 50 years — a must-do to keep commerce thriving. And that figure doesn’t even take into account the airports, railroads, subways, sewage-treatment plants, waterworks, levees, electric grids, pipelines, and all of those other expensive systems that people ignore until they break down.