Business/Finance

Clinton’s infrastructure spending plan too little to tackle multi-trillion-dollar crisis

News item:

Hillary Clinton on Sunday announced her plan for infrastructure spending—a “down payment on our future,” she said—and it comes with a hefty price tag: $275 billion.

At a campaign event in Boston, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination called for an increase in federal infrastructure spending over five years and the establishment of an infrastructure bank—two proposals that she says will create jobs and repair the U.S.’s crumbling highways and bridges.

aging-infrastructureJust $275 billion? That’s only $55 billion annually. That’s not enough to address the ailments of the nation’s roads and bridges — let alone everything else. The Federal Highway Administration argues $170 billion is needed each year to address safety issues and performance. Federal, state, and local investment, the American Society of Civil Engineers says, amounts to only $91 billion each year. Meanwhile, bad roads cost Americans more than $100 billion annually in wasted time and fuel.

Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate with corporatist tendencies like her husband, would direct the proposed money to roads and bridges. The nation has more than 600,000 bridges, and they average 42 years in age. The FHWA, the society notes, says an investment of more than $20 billion annually would be needed until the year 2828 to address the multiple issues with bridges. But the nation spends less than $13 billion annually on bridges.

What about aviation? The FAA expects the cost of delays, $22 billion a year today, to rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040.

What about dams? The average age of the nation’s 84,000 dams is 52 years old, the society says. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials says $21 billion is needed to repair about 2,000 high-hazard dams — dams whose failure or mis-operation are likely to cause loss of life.

What about the pipes that deliver drinking water? Each year, the society notes, the nation endures 240,000 broken or leaking water mains. The cost to replace the nation’s mains and water pipes — which are frequently more than 100 years old — is more than $1 trillion.

What about the nation’s aging electrical grid and pipelines? Population increases will continue to stress that system.

What about hazardous waste? Annual funding for the Superfund, the moniker given to the environmental program established to address more than 400,000 brownfields and abandoned hazardous waste sites, needs $500 million more annually, says the society.

What about inland waterways and locks (more than half of which are more than 50 years old)? This aging system, says the society, averages more than 50 service interruptions daily. Moreover, the society says, “Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further.”

What about the nation’s more than 100,000 miles of levees? The cost to repair or rehabilitate them would cost more than $100 billion, says the National Committee on Levee Safety.

And what about ports, public parks and recreation, rail, schools, solid waste disposal, transit systems, and wastewater reclamation?

Scholars & Rogues began covering infrastructure issues in 2007 — the year Sens. Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel put forth the National Infrastructure Bank Act and called it a “partnership” to address roads and bridges issues. But it was a thinly veiled attempt to privatize public property. A few months later, the Senate passed the National Infrastructure Improvement Act — but it was not to designed to improve, only to study.

bridge_largeThen the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 100 more — because of undersized gusset plates. I wrote, back then:

The discovery of a tragic design flaw does not change the fact that the nation’s roads, bridges, harbors, sewage treatment plants, railroads, dams, reservoirs and other public infrastructure systems are inadequate because of lack of maintenance, modernization, overuse or abuse. Nor does it change the fact that pressure should continue to be brought to bear on Congress to provide valid, realistic solutions that retain the public’s infrastructure in the public’s hands.

Ten months later, 2008 presidential candidate Clinton (remember that?) proposed an infrastructure improvement plan of — ready for this? — $3 billion a year. At least she’s updated her math to about $55 billion a year.

But it’s not enough. And here’s why: The society says the investment necessary to address all these infrastructure issues by 2020 is … $3.6 trillion. Any presidential candidate who does not face that fact directly and responsibly is incapable of leading the nation to strengthening the nation’s ability to move goods safely and timely on roads, waterways, and in the air; drink and reclaim potable water; place its children in safe, effective schools; store safely hazardous waste, including nuclear waste; provide security and sanity in the nation’s energy transmission systems; and live and work safely near dams and levees.

Anything less is unconscionable.

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