President Donald Trump recently revealed his plan to improve America’s infrastructure. I believe the plan falls short when it comes to solving problems. Infrastructure can be defined as anything from bridges to electrical grids, but I'll focus on three sectors in desperate need of reform: roads, dams and water systems.
While everyone has experienced the frustration of traffic congestion, it is important to see infrastructure beyond the daily commute. According to historian and engineer Henry Petroski, delays caused by traffic congestion alone cost the economy more than $120 billion every year. With many of America’s road networks built back in the 1950s, they were never built with the intention of supporting today’s growing population. From the lack of investment for repairs and modifications, roads that once provided jobs during the Great Depression and stimulated economic growth in the 1950s now hinder economic productivity.
Dams have provided power to millions for more than 50 years, but many have been neglected. In 2015, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials listed over 2,000 state-regulated dams in the U.S. for needing repairs, and 70 percent of these dams will be more than 50 years old in the next two years. Dam failure has already occured in California and Nevada since January, devastating local ecosystems and causing millions of dollars in damage. As the federal government stalls in providing the money to repair these aging dams, the chance for more dam failures only increases.
Living in a developed country, one would think every American has access to clean water. Unfortunately, as many as 25 million have been recently exposed to water that does not meet the Safe Drinking Water Act standards. SDWA violations are rooted in the inability for many rural municipalities to adapt to a 2002 Environmental Protection Agency rule change on chlorination disinfection. While chlorine is a popular disinfectant, recent research has shown chlorine can yield toxic by-products. Cities have the option to further treat the water once chlorinated or switch to another disinfectant, yet both options cost money municipalities don’t have.
There are more aspects of America’s infrastructure Trump’s plan fails to address, but the coinciding problem comes down to a lack of funding. The current plan’s budget allocates $200 billion for the 2019 fiscal year. To put that into context, the EPA estimates repairs and updates to America’s water infrastructure alone will require $632 billion over the next decade. In order to achieve next year’s infrastructure objectives, the proposed plan expects $1.3 trillion from state and private investments. However, if the state and local governments had that kind of money to invest, they would have done so already. The money needs to come from the federal level.
Improving infrastructure shouldn’t be used as a political strategy or polling boost. The daily life of every American is shaped by the state of this country’s infrastructure. The federal government must address current infrastructure problems with a plan that actually works.
Joshua Udvary is a UF environmental engineering junior. His column focuses on science.