Infrastructure Report Card
August 3, 2007 11:15 PM   Subscribe

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published their latest Infrastructure Report Card in 2005. America's infrastructure got a D. The ASCE estimate that it will cost $1.6 trillion over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to good condition. They also have a Critical Infrastructure blog. [Via Gristmill.]
posted by homunculus (49 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
We've got bridges in Iraq that need blowing up, and why do voters need to get involved with big words like infrastructure, anyway?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:22 PM on August 3, 2007


we blow all our money on bombing arabs. who gives a shit about road maintenance over here?
posted by growabrain at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2007


1.6 trillion, eh? Wherever will we find that kind of dough?
posted by sourwookie at 11:46 PM on August 3, 2007


Timely post, homunculus, timely post. And these first two comments here in this thread, interesting how two people can say exactly the same thing but say it rather differently. For my money, it's BP for the win.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:05 AM on August 4, 2007


Actually, I think we are borrowing and printing money to blow up i-rack.
posted by well_balanced at 12:22 AM on August 4, 2007


I remember someone once telling me that "guns or butter" was a false dichotomy. Basically, he said that we would always be able to afford our military alongside whatever kind of civil projects we want.

Oh, how I miss the 90's.
posted by Avenger at 12:31 AM on August 4, 2007


The ASCE estimate that it will cost $1.6 trillion over a five-year period to bring the nation's infrastructure to good condition.

Damn, 1.6 trillion only brings us to 'Good'?
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 1:27 AM on August 4, 2007


Surely a few no-bid contracts to Halliburton will see this all sorted out.
posted by maxwelton at 2:18 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Timely post, homunculus, timely post.

Don't jump to conclusions. The bridge that collapsed did so while work was being done on it. Given that it was a reduced traffic flow at the time it seems likely that investment in infrastructure may have been the cause rather than the cure.

Not that there isn't a need to maintain and develop new infrastructure. I just think right now in the emotional state after a bridge collapse is precisely the wrong time to rush to judgements.

After all the last time there was a spectacular collapse in the news some very very poor decisions, quite possiblly the worst in the history of the U.S., were made.
posted by srboisvert at 2:33 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I remember someone once telling me that "guns or butter" was a false dichotomy. Basically, he said that we would always be able to afford our military alongside whatever kind of civil projects we want.

Someone was an idiot. You cannot have your trillion-dollar war and things you actually need, too.

I just think right now in the emotional state after a bridge collapse is precisely the wrong time to rush to judgements.

How about in 2005 - was the ASME in too much of an emotional state then?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:32 AM on August 4, 2007


ASCE
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:33 AM on August 4, 2007


First ask how many bases (known ones) we have worldwide...next ask: why? then ask about taxes and health care and education and why on the one hand we hear constantly about Not raising taxes and on the other hand about the power of lobby groups. If the richest country in the world can not fix itself, then there is bound to be mess. And Ike, yes, Ike, was the first and last president to say out loud that Infrasructure was a part of national security.
posted by Postroad at 3:58 AM on August 4, 2007


interesting that bridges was the second highest rated category, given all the bridge hubbub.

also, wouldn't it be dumb of a bunch of people who do civil engineering for a living to get together and say "hey, america, your civil infrastructure is just fine. it turns out there isn't all that much you need to hire us for. welcome to starbucks, may i help you?"
posted by sergeant sandwich at 4:00 AM on August 4, 2007


Bridges are a-falling...
but certainly its those pesky civil engineering types that are trying to gain advantage of the situation.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:11 AM on August 4, 2007


Right, Sarge Sammy, right. There's no other possible reason that civil engineers would be warning people to upgrade their basic infrastructure. Jobs are just so hard to come by for civil engineers, and the fact that they've been saying it for at least 15 years doesn't give this report any extra credence at all.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:22 AM on August 4, 2007


$4000 a minute in Iraq. If anyone thinks this is sane, I have some excellent real estate deals you might be interested in.
posted by chlorus at 5:13 AM on August 4, 2007


Just a note to you MeFites who don't get over to MeFi Music much, but might find it of interest nonetheless: this months' MetaFilter Music Challenge theme is... "bridge". And I reckon that's timely as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:21 AM on August 4, 2007


After all the last time there was a spectacular collapse in the news some very very poor decisions, quite possiblly the worst in the history of the U.S., were made.
posted by srboisvert at 2:33 AM on August 4 [+] [!]


i can't tell if this comment is mind-bogglingly stupid or brilliant sarcasm.

though actually i agree: throwing trillions of dollars at subsidies for petrochemical fueled private transportation strikes me as perhaps a waste at this point in time.

I'm a little uninformed but i feel like the U.S. is perhaps approaching the limit to the amount of surfaced roads that it can reasonably support.
posted by geos at 6:14 AM on August 4, 2007


i didn't say there was no other possible reason. jesus, don't be an ass. i'm sure there is plenty of credible engineering in the report, although honestly the methodology strikes me as kind of weird anyway.

i'm saying that the membership of the ASCE has a lot to gain from the layout of 1.6 trillion smackers, and that we should take it with a grain of salt. i'm saying that we should learn our fucking lesson from iraq, and start practice a marginal hint of critical thinking about who stands to profit from what we're being sold.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:44 AM on August 4, 2007


investment in infrastructure may have been the cause rather than the cure

.
posted by nax at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2007


investment in infrastructure may have been the cause rather than the cure

I think Matt could make good money by selling T-Shirts with quotes like this on them. Also, collect them for a "You'll Need to Floss Your Brain: 'Best' of Metafilter" annual for the holiday season.
posted by maxwelton at 8:38 AM on August 4, 2007


wouldn't it be dumb of a bunch of people who do civil engineering for a living to get together and say "hey, america, your civil infrastructure is just fine

Oh. My. God.

So this is just a conspiracy by civil engineers to provide job security, eh? Just shoot me now.

.Don't jump to conclusions. The bridge that collapsed did so while work was being done on it. Given that it was a reduced traffic flow at the time it seems likely that investment in infrastructure may have been the cause rather than the cure.

Are you serious?

Well-maintained and well-designed bridges don't collapse. It's beyond dispute that many bridges in America are very poorly maintained (well, they are maintained, but they've been patched for too long -- it's time for major overhaul).

It's unclear whether this bridge collapsed because of bad design, bad maintenance, or both, but all signs point to a serious need for maintenance, coupled with a design that allowed for a single point of failure. And a re-evaluation of bridge inspection routines.

As for the maintenance having caused this collapse: give me a fucking break.

America's infrastructure needs some serious help. This was true before the bridge collapse, and it's still true. There's no "rushing to judgement" about that fact. It's been well-known for years. We are the richest country on Earth, and we have second-rate and crumbling infrastructure.

It's just plain stupid.
posted by teece at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2007


There's no other possible reason that civil engineers would be warning people to upgrade their basic infrastructure. Jobs are just so hard to come by for civil engineers,

Sometimes they are, like for any other engineer. Engineering is highly cyclical and made worse because every time things pick up again new graduates are up against people with 10 years experience who haven't worked in 10 months.

and the fact that they've been saying it for at least 15 years doesn't give this report any extra credence at all.

I agree; it does not. The number of repetitions of a statement and its truth are orthogonal.

About the only information you can get from this is a boundary -- their statement is the worst, most expensive case that is remotely credible.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2007


So this is just a conspiracy by civil engineers to provide job security, eh? Just shoot me now.

Nobody is saying that; only that report merits a grain of salt about the numbers.

Why you would trust the ASCE about how much civil engineering we need any more than you'd trust the AMA about how much doctoring we need or the AIA about how woefully underinsured Americans are?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:52 AM on August 4, 2007


Why you would trust the ASCE about how much civil engineering

Well, trust is the wrong word. The report is factually substantiated to a great degree, by people who have the requisite expertise in the field. I don't know or care if the dollar amount is right. And of course I greet it with the same critical skepticism I greet everything.

The broader point seems to be clearly correct: America's infrastructure needs a lot of help (especially our power generation system).

I drive over 3 "structurally deficient" bridges every day. I've seen the work crews put a hammer through a hole that goes clean-through the sole steal support on the aft-side of a bridge I (and thousands of others) drive over every day.

It's pathetic. A collapse of that bridge is highly unlikely still, but the fact that Americans choose not to replace it is highly indicative of something pathological.

I really don't see what the point of trying to de-legitimize the ASCE is, other than anti-enlightenment nonsense, and knee-jerk defense of the status quo. (That's not what you are trying to do, ROU, you're just trying to play Devil's advocate, but whatever).

I can already see this "argument" echoing forth from a billion right wingers mouths, as they find some rationalization to support yet another round of tax cuts.
posted by teece at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2007


i'm saying that the membership of the ASCE has a lot to gain from the layout of 1.6 trillion smackers, and that we should take it with a grain of salt. i'm saying that we should learn our fucking lesson from iraq, and start practice a marginal hint of critical thinking about who stands to profit from what we're being sold.

Critical thinking reveals a big bridge just fell down... all by itself, for radically different reasons than why the twin towers fell down.

The root of the problem is exactly this: politicians decide what to spend money on, not engineers. To a politician there is no glory in replacing a bridge, in simply re-accomplishing something that's already been done. All a politician gets out of replacing a bridge is a lot of voters complaining about taxes and traffic problems caused by construction. To an engineer there's potentially even more glory in replacing a bridge than in building the original, in "doing it right", bringing it up to modern standards, making it safe.

For whatever systemic reason (general pandering to short-sighted voters?) the decision-making balance that should exist between politicians chasing their careers and their advisers chasing their careers would in fact appear to be out of balance.
posted by scheptech at 9:24 AM on August 4, 2007


this reminds me of a project I did for marketing credits at b-school in pittsburgh, the clever chaps at Carnegie Mellon had invented a robotic paint scraper that would hang upside down and do dangerous parts of bridges. part of my project was a market analysis for this gadget and that entailed going through tons of data on the number of bridges, culverts, flyovers etc how many needed maintenance at any given time, budgets bla bla bla. I'd say that the ASCE is probably right and not trying to "get jobs" or "funds" as some have said, instead they're pointing out the sorry state of affairs in a locale where infrastructure for motor vehicles is vital since its the most important form of transportation today vis a vis railways, waterways and what have you.
posted by infini at 9:35 AM on August 4, 2007


Years and years of tax cutting leads to wasting of America's infrastructure? Say it ain't so boss!
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:50 AM on August 4, 2007


Folks, this is just another conspiracy brought about by tax-and-spend liberal engineers who feed off the teat of the lowly American taxpayer. We've got to resist their attempts to spend money on worthless "public works" when we could be spending that money on the things that really matter: oil wells in national parks and Hunter-Killer droids to guard them.

on a serious note, the 2005 report says that my state, Texas, has exactly six state employees to inspect 7,500 dams. "One Texas official noted that with current staff level 'some dams would not be examined for three centuries.'"
posted by Avenger at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2007


Are you serious?

If I were I would have constructed a taut, illogical, pre-suppository argument like you have so I guess not. I mean why would I say wait and see what the cause actually was before making rash emotion driven decisions when I could instead say "It is beyond dispute that all signs point to exactly what I want to conclude"? Clearly, I am just a silly silly person.
posted by srboisvert at 10:42 AM on August 4, 2007


So, to sum up; we are over-extended militarily, our infrastructure is crumbling, and the population is distracted by pop-culture.

How are we not the Roman empire in it's last days again?
posted by quin at 11:38 AM on August 4, 2007


srboisvert, that's pretend consideration, not real consideration.

There is no rush to judgement here: America's infrastructure has been known to be crumbling for years. It's not new. This bridge collapse has brought attention to that, but there has not been a single, solitary argument against that anywhere that I've seen. I've been talking about our crumbling infrastructure, and the inanity of our government spending, long before this bridge collapse. So have many others.

Pretty much all economically similar countries to the US have considerably better invested and maintained infrastructures.

You're employing false balance, or whatever you want to call it, that has become all the rage today among people who want to be called "serious."

Your statement is just pointless.
posted by teece at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2007


You're employing false balance, or whatever you want to call it, that has become all the rage today among people who want to be called "serious."

Your statement is just pointless.


Please take off your "If you don't agree with me then you are part of the problem" glasses for a moment teece.

People are using this bridge collapse as a call to infrastructure investment arms. You included. What if it turns out that the bridge collapsed directly because of the resurfacing work being done on it? Do you then say "Ok well I guess we can go back to our previous method of infrastructure investment"? I'm guessing no. You've already decide what this event means before any information is in.

People bemoan the 9/11 exploitation for military adventurism because they recognize that it is using the emotion of a disaster to justify a policy. I think the same applies here.

Take a breath. Do a rational examination of the cause of the collapse. Decide how to proceed once the facts are in. A massive campaign of bridge inspection, replacement or repair triggered by this event could be a stupid use of money if it was caused by something far outside the norm. If it was sloppy resurfacing work damaging a critical support structure that triggered the collapse it suggests proper attention to improved procedures repairing the same type of bridge. Not a rash rush to run out and inspect all similar constructions for some mystery flaw that is as yet unknown. Ignoring this raises a real possibility that "infrastructure investment" could result in triggering another collapse in exactly the same way regardless of how much money is thrown at the unexamined and not understood problem.

Do you really think a bunch of politicians throwing money at this type of bridge right now will provide even one more iota of safety before they find out the cause of the collapse? They don't even know what to look for!

Of course I am just farting in a gale since you don't want to hear it. I can only hope that maybe you can smell it.
posted by srboisvert at 12:22 PM on August 4, 2007


Of course I am just farting in a gale since you don't want to hear it. I can only hope that maybe you can smell it.

Pot, meet kettle.

You're original statement was nonsensical, and not a bad way to start good debate:

Don't jump to conclusions. The bridge that collapsed did so while work was being done on it. Given that it was a reduced traffic flow at the time it seems likely that investment in infrastructure may have been the cause rather than the cure.

You a) assume people here are jumping to conclusions. At least for myself, these are conclusions I had before this bridge collapsed.

b) make the nonsensical point that the maintenance might have caused the collapse. That's just wrong. Period.

The bridge collapsed for reasons unknown, yes, but you won't find a single, reasonable person that will "investment in infrastructure" was the "cause rather than the cure."

That's utter nonsense. IF, and I stress IF, the change in traffic patterns because of resurfacing is the straw that broke the camels back, in no way would it be sensible to say that "investment in infrastructure" was the "cause rather than the cure."

Indeed, exactly the opposite point is far, far more likely: the deferment of maintenance and upgrades led to a situation where an outdated and ailing bridge could fail unexpectedly in an unacceptable way because of a minor traffic redistribution.

The other alternative is some unseen design defect, or a combination of that and deferred or poor maintenance. Or it could just be an instance of astoundingly bad luck. We don't know, and I (nor anyone on this thread) are claiming to know why this bridge collapsed.

Redistributed traffic is a situation a bridge must support. If this bridge failed because of that, the bridge was the problem. Period. Not the routine maintenance on the bridge (the "investment in infrastructure").

I'm not asking anybody to allocate $1.6 dollars tomorrow. No one here has.

So how's about you quit acting like we are? And how's about you quit making patently stupid statements about what investment in infrastructure will do?

If a bridge is so dangerous that changing the traffic distribution can make it collapse, and we can't tell that from an inspection, we have a major problem. Investment in infrastructure was most certainly not the cause. Only a fool would say so.

IF that's what made this bridge collapse (something entirely speculative, Mr. Don't Rush to Judgement), it's a tragic irony, not something caused by investment.

I don't know what caused this bridge to collapse, and whatever it was, it is not germane to the simple fact that it's long past time we started building this country's foundation back up.

Like I said, I was saying that years ago. There is no judgement here, let alone a rush to judgement, on my part.
posted by teece at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2007


taut ... pre-suppository

lol butts
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2007


teece, you responded to my original comment which contains a quote saying from flapjacks saying "Timely post, homunculus, timely post.". It's no great leap to infer what is meant or even what motivated the post. At least it wasn't for me.

I suggest rinse off the lather you have worked up and just think about what I suggested which amounts to "Figure out what happened before you run around preventing it". (You can reread the thread. It is all there. Scroll up)

I speculate that the bridge collapse may have something to do with the work that was being done on it. I think it will turn out to be the cause but that is just me guessing. I know this. That's why I reserve judgment until the experts determine it.

You can't solve a problem when you don't know what it is. No reasonable amount of investment will achieve this goal. Even an unreasonable project like replacing all the bridges in America may not prevent it if it turns out that the collapse was caused by something unknown that could occur to a brand new bridge.

Saying slogans "invest in infrastructure" is easy. It is easy because it is pretty hollow. "Invest how much in what infrastructure how?" is the question that faces engineers, civil servants and politicians regularly. Hopefully, they try and answer that question using data.

BTW:

b) make the nonsensical point that the maintenance might have caused the collapse. That's just wrong. Period.


How do you know this? Really? How could you know this? You are just presupposing that you are correct (hence my lame little poopy word play joke about tautological and presupposition). I don't rule that the bridge collapsed due some neglect issues. I say I don't know either way and until I do all possibilities are on the table. You on the other hand claim to know somehow that only your option can be correct and reject the construction work damage hypothesis out of hand with absolute conviction. What is your secret?

See things like this make me wonder:
Although concern was raised about cracks, some experts theorized it's no coincidence the collapse happened when workers and heavy equipment were on the bridge. The construction work involved resurfacing and maintenance on guardrails and lights, among other repairs.

"I would be stunned if this didn't have something to do with the construction project," said David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University. "I think it's a major factor.
"

posted by srboisvert at 2:17 PM on August 4, 2007


I'm all for better roads and bridges (and health care, for that matter), as long as I don't have to pay for it. Fuckin' Socialists.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:14 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


srboisvert, you're missing teece's point. The stresses caused by maintenance on the bridge was supposed to be well within the structure's tolerances. (Unless you're positing X-TREEM standards set by civil engineers gone wild, or multiple road crews consisting entirely of one-eyed tweakers.) Whatever work was going on, however much heavy equipment was trundled out there, wherever the jackhammers were pointed—the bridge should have held.

It didn't. Why?

From your link:

During the 1990s, inspections found fatigue cracks and corrosion in the steel around the bridge's joints. Those problems were repaired. Starting in 1993, the bridge was inspected annually instead of every other year.

State bridge engineer Dan Dorgan said the bearings could not have been repaired without jacking up the entire deck of the bridge. Because the bearings were not sliding, inspectors concluded the corrosion was not a major issue.

After a study raised concern about cracks, the state was given two alternatives: Add steel plates to reinforce critical parts or conduct a thorough inspection of certain areas to see if there were additional cracks. They chose the inspection route, beginning that examination in May.


Sounds like there were two ways to go, and—lacking precognition—they picked the wrong one.

I agree with you that there are multiple factors that go into that kind of decision. (Also, this particular failure may involve some heretofore unrecognized feature of this kind of bridge, these particular materials.) I also agree that no amount of money devoted to inspection and maintenance will ever eliminate this kind of catastrophe. It's a calculated bet, and there's no way to get the odds down to 1:0.

But how close should we aim? How much does each order of magnitude cost us? What do we give up to get it?

I wish we could have some sort of rational discussion of this stuff... but I live in Manhattan, so I gave up on that almost six years ago.
posted by vetiver at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2007


Let me frame this discussion slightly differently.

Roughly 40% of all freight in the US travels by freight train. The vast majority of freight rail traffic crossing the Mississippi river crosses at only seven rail bridges.

Seven bridges.

As fuel prices increase, more freight traffic will be shifted to rail, which is about 4 times more fuel efficient than trucking. These bridges are vital to the economic stability of the country.

If three of those bridges even suffer significant volume reductions, let alone catastrophic failure, the effect on the economy east of the river will be immediate and severe.

Fortunately, most of these bridges are owned and operated by the railroads themselves, namely BNSF, NS, UP. And to say that their inspection and maintenance of these bridges is hypervigilant would be an understatement, and these companies are currently enjoying record profitability.

There is zero excuse for the neglect of infrastructure in this country. And you can't blame the Iraq war, only five years old, for rotting infrastructure that we knew was already rotten three years ago, or only one year into the war.

Here's the issue. Either the government fixes these problems right now, or politicians under the thumb of private companies are going to start making very compelling arguments for the wholesale privatization of infrastructure. And unlike the railraods, who are run by companies with a combined four centuries worth of experience dealing with these issues, road privatization is going to fall to companies like KBR and Bechtel, who have a combined few decades of experience screwing up much of the large projects they touch.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:37 PM on August 4, 2007




And you can't blame the Iraq war, only five years old, for rotting infrastructure that we knew was already rotten three years ago, or only one year into the war.

This makes no sense. Trillions in discretionary funding allocated to an illegal war are trillions diverted away from federally-funded services such as, yes, public transportation infrastructure.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:59 PM on August 4, 2007


srboisvert, I've read all your exhaustive comments, your back-and-forth with teece, and I still say it was a timely post. It's a post about infrastructure, and the goddamn bridge falls under the goddamn category of infrastructure. No rush to judgement, no hidden agenda, no second-guessing of causes. But the collapsed bridge is part of the INFRASTRUCTURE, and this post relates to INFRASTRUCTURE. Y'unnerstand? GREAT!

Now, stop projecting your thoughts into my head. And try to spell my username right, mate.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:30 PM on August 4, 2007


Only five years old? Have you checked your US participation in WWII dates lately, or ever?
posted by raysmj at 11:19 PM on August 4, 2007


This seems to have gone badly off track and gotten strangely hostile and insulting and I apologize for my part in that.
posted by srboisvert at 2:11 AM on August 5, 2007


politicians under the thumb of private companies are going to start ... privatization of infrastructure.

This has been happening to a substantial level in British Columbia and, afaict, it has been a pretty crappy decision.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:26 AM on August 5, 2007


If you ask the average voter what kind of condition a bridge is in, their impression will be pretty much based on the quality of the road surface on the bridge, since it's all they can really see as they cross it at 60mph.
It's pretty ironic, actually, that the bridge collapsed from unknown structural weaknesses at the same time as its cosmetic topcoat was being polished to a shine.
posted by anthill at 12:44 PM on August 5, 2007


The War on Infrastructure
posted by homunculus at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


superb link homunculus, thanks! it deserves a FPP in its own right ... Its frightening that it took me a minute to realize ....
posted by infini at 4:39 AM on August 8, 2007


Well, what do you know. Preliminary NTSB investigation results point to "I told you so". So much so they are issuing a warning in advance.

Not that I think this will persuade any of the people who couldn't even stand the idea of being cautious regarding seizing the bridge failure to push for infrastructure investment.

Ah well.
posted by srboisvert at 7:27 AM on August 9, 2007


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