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New York Times

Old Tunnels and Rusted Bridges: American Squeaky Infrastructure

Engineers say that when infrastructure works, most people don’t even think about it. But when they turn on the faucet and there is no water, when they see the embankment eroded, or when they slip through traffic, they recognize it. President Joe Biden has announced an ambitious $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan to invest huge amounts of money in improving national bridges, roads, public transport, railroads, ports and airports. The plan faces opposition from Republicans and business groups pointing out the enormous costs and higher corporate taxes that Biden has proposed to pay for it. Signing up for The New York Times’ The Morning newsletter Still, leaders from both parties have long seen infrastructure as a potential unified issue. Urban and rural communities, red and blue states, coastal and central parts of the country: all face weak and debilitating infrastructure. “It’s an urgent need,” said Greg Dillorate, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, who publishes an extensive report card on this subject every four years. The 2020 report gave the country a C-minus rating and showed a slight improvement after 20 years of D. Dilolate said more needs to be done. “It’s a terrible report card to bring home to people.” Roads and bridges are still in use decades after their expected lifespan. Sewers and water systems are aging and corrupt. Climate change can also exacerbate old vulnerabilities and expose new vulnerabilities. The outline of the plan announced by the Biden administration provides concrete suggestions and figures for some of these infrastructure needs. For example, the plan proposes an additional $ 115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, and roads that “need the most critical repairs.” However, other projects such as the embankment system are not explicitly mentioned and it is unclear how they will be considered in the proposal. We examined seven examples of emergency infrastructure vulnerabilities across the country, from specific projects to broader issues. — Deterioration of the Hudson Downstream Railroad Tunnel Connecting New York City and New Jersey Since Hurricane Sandy flooded saltwater in 2012, the 111-year-old tunnel used by commuter trains and Amtrak has deteriorated rapidly. He appealed to federal authorities for years to help build a new tunnel, arguing that tunnel failure could have devastating economic consequences far beyond the region. The Trump administration resisted their complaint. Riders are plagued by delays and cancellations, and railroads along the Northeast Corridor have similar problems. Passenger railroads across the country are suffering from a shortage of federal funding, generating a $ 45.2 billion repair backlog, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers report card. The Biden administration has stated that the plan will replace buses and rolling stock, expanding transportation and rail to new communities. It is unclear how the Hudson River tunnels are related. — The eerie Brent Spence Bridge across the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington. President Barack Obama of Kentucky stood at the foot of the bridge in 2011, explaining laws that could help improve the bridge. In 2016, President Donald Trump also guaranteed to replace the structure. Still, the bridge continues to be a source of frustration. Rusty, squeaky, it has been listed as “functionally obsolete” in the federal bridge inventory since the 1990s and has a history of bottlenecks and crashes. With a $ 2.5 billion plan to repair the bridge and build a new one along it, some in Covington, Kentucky have expressed concern about the proposal. The mayor told Cincinnati Enquirer, citing the proposed bridge size, that it was an “existential threat” (some traffic would still cross the old bridge). Biden’s plans pledge to repair the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, but do not specify which of them. Minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at a press conference Wednesday, “If there is a qualified project, that would be it.” “Hopefully, somewhere in the gut of this trillions of bills, there’s a solution.” — A collapsing school vulnerable to the Puerto Rico earthquake Children around the world have been remote since the coronavirus pandemic last year Although attending school locally, many Puerto Rican students were absent from class a few months ago. This is due to the collapse of schools in southern Puerto Rico after the January 7 earthquake. The collapse made more than 600 schools on the island vulnerable to shaking as they shared the architectural design of “short pillars”. .. Teachers and parents are wary of reopening, and schools at risk of their design remain closed. The children who went to them are still learning remotely. In addition, post-earthquake inspections showed structural flaws that closed nearly 60 schools. The Puerto Rican Secretary of Education told The New York Times last year that about 25 people had “permanent” problems that preceded the quake and its aftershocks. Government officials recently admitted that none of the hundreds of vulnerable schools were repaired in the year the schools were closed due to a pandemic. — Hundreds of rural bridges, closed nationwide, and major bridges carrying tens of thousands of cars and 18-wheeled vehicles are not the only ones showing their age. So are small bridges in rural areas. These bridges have much less traffic, but are less important to the functioning of the community. (In Mississippi alone, authorities list 355 bridges that are aging or closed due to aging.) The president’s infrastructure program will repair 10,000 of these bridges. Of the national bridges, 71% are rural. According to Trip, a non-profit organization for traffic research, these bridges make up 79% of bridges rated poor or structurally unhealthy. Proponents of local communities say the bridge problem points to a wider lack of connectivity over roads and broadband internet. (The president’s plan also states that it will provide reliable high-speed Internet access to 35% of rural residents who do not have it.) Rural roads and bridges will improve by $ 21.1 billion. There is a backlog. Some of these projects, such as adding guardrails and expanding lanes, could enable safer driving on rural roads other than interstate highways, where the country’s road fatalities are disproportionately high. there is. — Jackson, Mississippi Water Crisis Many vulnerabilities in infrastructure were exposed when a powerful winter storm passed through Texas in February and rushed to the southeast. One of them was the water supply system in the state capital, Jackson, where residents spent several weeks issuing boiling notices. The water crisis ignited Jackson’s lasting tensions as white residents fled and dominated many communities where the tax base had evaporated. There are old and broken pipes in the city. There is no money to repair them. City officials estimate that modernizing Jackson’s water infrastructure will cost $ 2 billion. The storm also caused power outages for millions of people across Texas. And it urged lawmakers to consider overhauling the state’s electrical infrastructure there. According to state officials, at least 111 people were killed as a result of the storm, which also caused widespread property damage and some residents faced huge electricity bills. Biden’s plan is to eliminate lead pipes and service lines and install more transmission lines for electricity. — Dams increasingly hit by climate change Thousands were evacuated and hundreds were evacuated last year when Michigan and many other states Michigan authorities investigated what led to the collapse of the Edenville and Sanford dams. Homes and businesses have been flooded. The historic flood incident has caught up with years of lack of funding and negligence. There are approximately 91,000 dams in the country, most of which are more than 50 years old, many of which are exceptional rainfall away from potential disasters. As the dams age, the weather becomes more severe, old building codes become obsolete, creating conditions that were rarely considered when many of the dams were built. Housing development is steadily expanding into former rural areas downstream of weakening infrastructure. According to the State Dam Safety Officials Association, about 15,600 dams in the country are most likely to cause death and widespread property damage if they fail. Of these, more than 2,330 are believed to be in short supply, the group said. Biden’s plan mentions “dam safety” but does not provide details. — Levees that can no longer be held consistently across the country There are tens of thousands of miles of levees in the country, protecting millions of people and trillions of dollars worth of property. The US Army Corps of Engineers operates a small portion of the country’s levees, the rest being maintained by embankment districts, local governments, and privately owned patchwork. But as the catastrophic 2019 floods in the Midwest have shown, floods care little about who is in charge of maintenance. When it rained record-breaking, embankments were breached or crossed across the region, flooding farmlands, flooding homes and causing billions of dollars in damage. Given the new weather patterns caused by climate change, rainfall is unlikely to disappear soon. And some of the town and city officials most affected by the 2019 floods have shown a determined attitude. Simply refurbishing the embankment will no longer work. Colin Wellenkamp, ​​Secretary-General of the Mississippi River Municipal Initiative, an association of 100 mayors along the Mississippi River, said: His group presented the White House with a plan detailing the “systematic solution” to the flood last month. This includes wetland replacement, backwater and major river reconnection, and opening of areas for natural floods. Instead of rethinking the content of the infrastructure, a plan to simply replace it would be ineffective and ultimately out of reach, Wellenkamp said. He is uncertain whether his group’s proposals are incorporated into the Biden program. But he has few options. “Unless you incorporate other larger solutions, this is a losing game,” he said. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company