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Defining the Future of America’s Infrastructure

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Image: Nicolas Raymond via flickr/CC BY 2.0)
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. (Image: Nicolas Raymond via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Throughout history, the solid infrastructure of the United States has kept the American economy vibrant, and helped its families, communities, and businesses thrive.

The country’s infrastructure encompasses all water mains, power lines, sewers, and city streets. Some of America’s most stunning national symbols and landmarks are pieces of infrastructure, such as the Hoover Dam, the national highway system, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

In the recent past, America’s once impressive infrastructure has stagnated in growth and development, and begun to crumble at its foundations, with an overtaxed energy grid, dangerously weak bridges, sewers overflowing into our water sources, leaking waterlines, inefficient dams, and failing educational facilities.

At the same time, our major competitors’ infrastructure flourishes. The 27 nations of the European Union (EU) act as one to generate a fifth of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). The EU has made cross-border transit seamless with its union: Toll ways, airspace, and rail lines are effortless to access and navigate. Its education system has also produced one of the most skilled populations in the world.

At the same time, China has begun to cooperate with the EU to build new infrastructure projects such as high-speed railways to bolster trade, and take advantage of the geographic relationship they share. The U.S., separated from both economies on either side by the world’s largest oceans, is left at a disadvantage without a strong infrastructure.

What is holding America back?

Congested airspace

(image: BriYYZ via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

American airlines. (Image: BriYYZ via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you do business on a national or international scale, an efficient aviation system is vital. The number of people traveling by air in the U.S. is only increasing, even after the recent economic recession.

Despite this need, our air system has been stretched to the limit. Congestion and delays cost the American economy almost $22 billion in the year 2012, according to estimates by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Those numbers will only get worse, while China has only improved: The country is currently building the largest air terminal in the world. Considering the increasing frequency at which U.S. travelers need to access and utilize air travel, we definitely need to consider certain structural improvements in order to make air travel safer and more convenient for Americans.

Outdated railways

(Image: Donnie Nunley via flickr/

Old railways. (Image: Donnie Nunley via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

America’s railroads are one of its most energy-efficient options for transporting both goods and passengers from city to city. In 2012, Amtrak recorded a record high year of ridership with 31.2 million passengers — roughly double the number they had experienced a decade before.

America has been adding new trains and investing heavily in its rail tracks, bridges, and tunnels. However, we still lag behind China, which boasts the world’s longest high-speed rail route.

We also aren’t quite on par with Europe, which has at least 16 high-speed trains, including some of the fastest in the world. The U.S., meanwhile, maintains its status as the only developed nation without a high-speed railway.

Rutted highways

(Image: Neil Kremer via flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

Highway in Los Angeles, California. (Image: Neil Kremer via flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

Highways are one of America’s best and earliest major national economic achievements. America’s first interstate highway was completed under the leadership of first president and founding father, General George Washington.

Washington believed that the National Road would make America stronger, wealthier, and more secure by creating a smooth passage for American trade. Our highways continued to evolve and grow into the Interstate system developed under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Recently, China has mimicked the great American Interstate Highway System with its National Trunk Highway System, which was built to be bigger and faster in order to carry the economic growth of the country’s coastal cities inland. Meanwhile, America hasn’t had a major burst of highway construction in decades.

Declining seaports

(Image: Prayitno via flickr/

South Street Seaport. (Image: Prayitno via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

According to estimates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than 95 percent of America’s overseas trade moves through our ports via ship.

Because of this, it should make perfect sense that we need to sustain and preserve the quality of those ports, but federal funding is low for navigable American waterways, and corresponding landside freight connections.

The EU, however, has successfully synthesized the seaports that connect its member countries, and allows for more efficient and open trade.

America has a lot of work to do. Major improvements need to be made across national and international infrastructural systems in order to make them viable and competitive in today’s global economy. If it invests quickly and wisely, America can once again be a major player in the world’s market.

Megan Ray Nichols

This article is by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, visit her page Schooled by Science.

 

 

 

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