American roads, transit and schools get a D-plus

A report card from civil engineers says we're scarcely investing in essential infrastructure that's more than half a century old.

By Jason Notte Jul 31, 2013 4:51PM
Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee Copyright Jumper, Photodisc, Getty ImagesWatch where you step, America: We're on pretty shaky ground.

The American Society of Civil Engineers put out its annual infrastructure report card this week and the nation's scores resemble those of a high school kid who took three months off to go backpacking. We just wouldn't recommend taking that road trip anywhere in the United States, however, as its bridges may collapse underneath you and its roadways are too clogged to get you very far.

The only thing we seem to be doing well is disposing of solid waste, which earned us a B-minus. Our inability to maintain airports, bridges, dams, drinking water supplies, hazardous waste, waterways, parks, ports, schools, roads or mass transit earned us a solid D-plus. In worse news, it'll take roughly $3.6 trillion to get all of that up to snuff.

The report card's absolute reaming of American domestic spending is so thorough that our little hovel at MoneyNOW can scarcely contain it. We'll give you some of the lowlights instead.

Bridges: One out of every nine bridges you drive over is structurally deficient -- basically a decent hit from a tractor-trailer could bring it down. Those that aren't are an average of 42 years old. Fixing the problem by 2028 would cost $20.5 billion a year; right now we're spending $12.8 billion.

Roads: Despite spending $91 billion on streets and highways each year, 42% are congested. That burns through $101 billion in wasted time and fuel.

Schools: When the Baby Boomers share the fond memories of the schools they went to, nearly half of the buildings they're talking about were later used to educate their children and grandchildren as well. Public school enrollment is expected to increase through 2019, yet state and local school construction has been slashed in half since the recession to approximately $10 billion in 2012.

Public transit: One-third of Americans don't drive cars. That would be just fine, if 45% of American households didn't lack any access to transit. Meanwhile, areas with access to public transit have increased ridership 9.1%, but old and crumbling transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010.

Inland waterways: What are those? Lawmakers don't seem to know, either, which is why much of the system barges use to carry goods across the country hasn't been updated since the Eisenhower administration. More than half of the locks are over 50 years old, service interruptions gum up the works 52 times a day and repair projects take decades to complete.

The basic takeaway is this: America was super awesome at building things it needed in the 1940s and 1950s, but has been loathe to change a light bulb or fix a floorboard on the place since. Good luck on that crawling commute down grandpa's highway -- just hope the bridge holds.

More on moneyNOW

Aug 1, 2013 11:35AM

Maybe if we hadn't been at war for the last 10+ years.

Maybe if we didn't give corporate welfare to oil and drug companies.

Maybe if we didn't spend as much on our military, as the next 10 counties combined.

Maybe if we didn't give money to countries that don't like us.

Jul 31, 2013 8:34PM
Generous, undeserved grade.  This nation's infrastructure is crumbling.  As always, the congress and administration appear incapable of wrestling this issue.  Companies with phenomenal products to address the concern, such as Caterpillar, are standing in the wings, as are the civil engineering resources, bridge builders, structural iron component plants, etc.  This once again boils down to an abject lack of leadership in DC.  No surprise.

Were I the professor grading the state of our infrastructure, we would all be repeating the course....a solid "F" is deserved.  The citizens of this country are being fleeced on this front too.  We've all paid far too much, for far too long and received next to nothing in return.

Jul 31, 2013 7:08PM
and here we are paying tens of millions of deadbeats to sit on the back side for months, years decades and lifetimes contributing nothing to anyone...WPA...
Jul 31, 2013 6:45PM
Obama just agreed to send 500,000,000.00 to Palestine while our infrastructure crumbles.  Makes sense to me.  Egypt is being sent 100,000,000.00's while our infrastructure crumbles, makes sense to me. 
Aug 1, 2013 9:14AM

so 800 billion stimulus for shovel ready jobs, for roads and bridges, and 4.5 years later nothing has been done about it aparently.


thanks for nothing obama

Aug 1, 2013 12:25PM

"The basic takeaway is this: America was super awesome at building things it needed in the 1940s and 1950s, but has been loathe to change a light bulb or fix a floorboard on the place since. "


Throughout the recorded history of empires, a crumbling infrastructure has consistently signaled a negative trend that concludes with an end of empire status. 




Aug 1, 2013 9:51AM
The way I see it,  we have an obesity epidemic so we don't need farm subsidies. Let's take that money and use it to fix our infrastructure.
Jul 31, 2013 6:39PM
Perhaps the Engineers should sent their report to the House of Reps. and remind them of the "Jobs Bill" that they r sitting on!!
Aug 1, 2013 9:12AM

In Minnesota we totally stopped building new roads and fixing existing has crawled to nearly a stop.


The Rhinos and libs spend nearly every cent on trains nobody uses that run to where nobody wants to go or live. Any existing the roads the idiots spend millions painting on bike lanes for the toddler adults, further making driving a hassle.


Now most commute using side streets as freeways are parking lots.



Aug 1, 2013 10:10AM
It's easy for them to stick a grade on the infrastructure issues.  But actually fixing them... The problem is time and manpower for all major projects.  Imagine if they wanted to do a major upgrade or replacement of the Brooklyn Bridge (which I'm sure is in that report somewhere).  It would take ten years, cost $25 billion and effectively bring NY to a halt.  Not to mention who is going to do the work?  There are only so many qualified construction/engineering/service workers and companies out there.  And if there are multiple projects going on, the workers are all spoken for.  And any infrastructure job simply take longer to get done today (for numerous reasons).  No city or state really wants to jump into a major project that will take years to complete.  So they wait as long as possible.  If the worker pool was larger, thus projects could be completed faster (but cost a little more) cities/states would be more likely to pull the trigger.
Jul 31, 2013 8:15PM
The American Society of Civil Engineers is an industry group looking for money, plain and simple. They are akin to the oil change stores you go to who sell you synthetic oil which is supposed to last 7000 miles and still put change after 3000 miles on your window. The Federal government & States should sell some of these assets they have, they manged them poorly. And oh by the way need the money to pay down debt. The best roads/highways here in Florida are managed by quasi public entities. The world over countries are beginning to do this. These companies know how to serve consumers at a cheaper rate, for the government it is a jobs program and giant kickback scheme. Since we are on MSN money, these companies can also provide great investments for individuals looking for safer returns. 
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