The American Society of Civil Engineers routinely produces a report card on the state of America’s infrastructure. In the most recent version they gave America a D+. They were being kind.
An obvious indicator of our nation’s demise is our nation’s infrastructure, which President Donald Trump has routinely talked about fixing. As yet, there is no plan and there is no money.
According to the ASCE, our grades are as follows: bridges C-, energy D+, transit D, dams D, rail B, drinking water D, ports C, aviation D, levees D-, schools D, roads D, inland waterways D-, wastewater D, hazardous waste D, public parks and rec D- and solid waste B-
It is in these kinds of projects that government must take the lead and/or assist private contractors. But rather than lead or assist, government is the obstacle.
Here is what the ASCE says about energy. Some of our electrical grid and pipeline distribution system dates from the 1880s. While 17,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines and pipeline are planned, permitting threatens their completion.
Having lived at the hub of the inland waterways system (Paducah, Ky.) for eight years we can attest to the reasons for the D grade in dams. Since most of the locks and dams are over 50 years old, the system averages 52 breakdowns per day.
Additionally, the locks were built to handle small tows. Modern towboats push 20 to 30 barges. At each lock they must break their tows into sections and make several trips through the lock. A process that should take a couple of hours takes eight to twelve.
Time is money. A modern towboat burns $13,000 of fuel per day. Each lock delay costs the shippers thousands and that is passed on to the consumers.
A new, larger lock is being built at the Kentucky Lock and Dam near Paducah. While the original lock and hydroelectric dam was built in eight years and cost $118 million, the new lock is now scheduled to be completed in 2023, nearly 20 years after it was begun, and at a cost of nearly $1 billion.
And just downstream a few miles the Olmstead Lock and Dam project, originally scheduled to open in 1995 at a cost of $775 million, is now slated to open in 2024 at a cost of $3.1 billion.
My glass-half-full view of President Trump was that in terms of infrastructure, his construction background might keep us from flunking out on infrastructure.
But the reality is more of my glass-half-empty view – that Trump has not learned how to effectively move the levers of government. The budget he recently signed increases our nation’s deficit for the foreseeable future and that dooms any talk of an infrastructure renewal.
Gary Adkisson is publisher of the Bismarck Tribune.
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