January 30th, 2009
12:01 PM ET

Gettin' diggy with it

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/28/infrastructure.report.card/art.levee.file.gi.jpg caption="The nation's levees got a grade of D- in the report by the The American Society of Civil Engineers, with the "reliability" of many not known."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Every couple of years something big somewhere breaks and someone (or lots of someones) gets hurt. In New Orleans, it was the levees when Katrina came, crumbling like cookies left too long in milk. In Minneapolis, it was that bridge that buckled unexpectedly beneath the weight of rush hour. And just a few weeks ago outside of DC, it was the water main that burst, turning a major roadway into a whitewater kayaking course. No one was hurt in that one, but once again, engineers are screaming that America had better get serious about fixing its infrastructure, and fast.

I’ll be the first to admit this is not a sexy topic. Debates over the economy, foreign affairs, school performance, even health care reform, are dry; but by comparison they are as steamy as Paris Hilton’s home videos. Politicians know they can get headlines for unveiling a new hospital, talking taxes, or making an impassioned speech about a distant military conflict.

Replacing an aging bridge? Not so much. For that, they’ll get angry phone calls from commuters who are frustrated at the delays are are perfectly happy with the old bridge. After all, it didn’t collapse the last time they crossed it.

But these things do matter.

The latest report card on the nation’s infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers is appalling. If your kid brought home a card like this there’d be no Facebook fun time this weekend.

Across the board, for 15 different systems that we rely on every day – highways, bridges, dams, water supplies, airports, railways, and more – the marks are abysmal. The most common grade is a D. The highest, a C+, went for our handling of solid waste, which I suspect is only because we get so much of it from Congress.

Here are some lowlights from their report: One out of four bridges is structurally deficient or obsolete. Nearly 4,000 dams are potentially dangerous, with about half of them called “high hazards” because they could break and flood communities downstream. (Note to self: Buy a mop.) And we are losing seven billion gallons of clean drinking water every day because our water systems have leaky pipes.

The list of problems goes on. Maybe some of it is just a case of folks being overly fretful. I hope so, but then, this is a pretty darn reputable group.

Barack Obama talked about the need to repair the infrastructure throughout his campaign and the new stimulus bill contains money that could do just that. But engineers say the road to this recovery will be very long. And we already know, it has potholes aplenty.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Tom Foreman
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. KSuzanne San Leandro, Ca.

    Repairing our infrastructures is oh so needed! We have been putting a band-aid on everything from our infrastructure to our economy to race relations, to everything...it is time we just get in and fix stuff no matter how costly it may be. And Cindy any jobs created in this time of our history is most appreciated!

    KSuzanne from San Leandro

    January 31, 2009 at 5:02 am |
  2. Annie Kate


    A question – did the study include the coal waste dams/pools that are at coal burning electrical systems or on each mountaintop removal coal mining project? These have just as much if not more propensity to break and flood people than regular dams – In December of 2008 one broke near Kingston, TN (or Harriman) and flooded the area, destroying several homes, a lot of land, and laced the land and the water areas around it with heavy metals that were in the coal ash sludge pools. I hope these are also looked at and gotten rid of somehow – especially one in West Virginia that sits just above an elementary school.....

    January 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Anniekay

    Why those greedy pigs on Wall street and corporate America get a bailout and the Middle class get a panel to see what effects the economy is having on them. Are they not only blind but stupid! Its obvious the effects... foreclosures, job loss, and the list goes on and on. So why do we need a panel to discuss this. Just as easy as they pushed the 800 billion bailout that will end up only in the hands of those initial pigs on Wall street. President Obama should have just cut checks to the American families who are the ones paying for this As,,,, backwards idea in the first place. I thought the idea was for the wealth to trickle down? Where is my bailout ... I voted ... I want mine at least I will use it to pay my mortage, buy thing that keep business running. Hey geniuses give the money to the PEOPLE. By the way we are going to have to pay the panel to write reports about what everyone already Know ... Hey wasting money again. The panel should hire me Here is the report. "The Middle class is broke... as a matter of fact there is No more middle class only poor folks."

    January 30, 2009 at 3:47 pm |
  4. Paula Vergara, Boston, MA

    Thanks, Tom. Interesting perspective.

    I wonder how much of the stimulus money will be going towards fixing the levees in New Orleans.

    Yes, there are lots of roads and bridges in need of fixing, but I'm hoping that President Obama can identify the worst cases, and start rebuilding from there.

    January 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  5. Kristie Holliday

    Your writing has such style! Informative, enlightening, witty, with a touch of sarchasm. I like it!

    You go boy!

    Las Vegas

    January 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  6. EJ (USA)

    Tom, I need to go grocery shopping but I am too sleepy. I can't handle it.

    January 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  7. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Like most of us, aging is a continious process, not only for individuals, but it also applies to all and everything that we have constructed. Maintenance programs are established to keep these structures safe for public use-but like everything else--sometimes the aging process creeps upon us without being noticed. It is only when we experience a major event, that the visibility returns as a reminder that we failed in preventing these things from happening and we need to revisit. but then it is too late and we reprogram our maintenance program and it happens again. It is the dog chasing it tail and it all regulated by priorities and funding. I don't think it will ever change-–we will cross each bridge as it presents itself--it is not right- it is just our nature.

    January 30, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  8. Cindy

    OK Tom...now you've got me singing.. Will Smith's tune Gettin Jiggy Wit It! LOL I'm not going to be able to get it out of my head...THANKS A LOT!! LOL

    Our infrastructure has been in shambles for years. I am amazed that more bridges or what not haven't failed and killed more people. I think that we definitely need to do some major fixing! But I don't see that it is going to create enough jobs to turn our economy around. I don't.


    January 30, 2009 at 12:19 pm |