vibration nation header 2015 530x136 1

Crumbling: 21 Facts About the Current State of American Infrastructure

by [user not found] | Mar 11, 2015

No roads, no bridges, no nation.

rust bridgeThe United States of America has almost 4 million miles of roads, including 604,000 bridges. Those roads and bridges are the economic lifeblood of our nation. And many of them are crumbling.

Since the 1990s, public outcry has grown louder and louder to address the state of America’s infrastructure. Report after report  concludes that a large percentage - most estimates are about 30% - of America’s roadways are in "poor or mediocre" condition, and roughly 10% of America's bridges are in urgent need of repair.

A quick Google search for the term ‘American infrastructure’ tells a clear story of where we are in the discussion of repairing America's infrastructure. The words ‘failure’, ‘short term’, ‘crumbling’, ‘deteriorating’ and ‘fix’ are common key words.

Take a look around you the next time you’re out for a drive. If you see pothole-laden and cracked roads in desperate need of repair, rusted steel beams, cracking brick and mortar, chipped, cracked concrete pillars holding up bridges and parking garages (probably due to poor consolidation on pour), you're looking at the problem.

How in need is America of a massive restoration project? Below are 24 facts about the current state of America’s infrastructure.


  1. The number of bridges that are considered ‘structurally insufficient’ is growing. As of 2014, 1 out of every nine bridges in the United States is at risk of structural failure.
  2. Almost a third of all roads, or 32 percent, in the United States are in need of major repairs.
  3. Business and labor are united in the effort to fix America’s infrastructure¹. Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO came before a Senate hearing both voiced strong support for raising the Federal Gas Tax to support infrastructure improvements.
  4. The last major 6-year infrastructure-funding bill was in 1997 - 18 years ago². Since then, there have been 21 minor short-term extensions to the bill, but not another major piece of legislation for infrastructure restoration and massive public works projects.
  5. Our ports soon won’t be able to accommodate new ships³.
  6. Our airports are some of the most congested in the world.  American airport runways cannot accommodate the steadily increasing demand for air travel and additional airplanes. As of 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers have given American airports a D rating.
  7. The United States is ranked at number 19 for quality of infrastructure, behind Denmark, Spain, Portugal and United Arab Emirates.
  8. Infrastructure spending has plummeted since 2008. Through a combination of state spending getting cut and national budgets for public works projects getting slashed, both have played central roles to the freefall of American infrastructure spending.
  9. We’re on the cusp of a failing grade for infrastructure. America’s Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the U.S. a D+ grade in terms of its infrastructure condition, with $3.6 trillion worth of repair and restructuring costs needed by 2020. The grade encompasses aviation, bridges, drinking water, dams, energy, hazardous waste, levees, ports, public parks, trails, roads, schools, solid waste removal, wastewater removal and transit. 
  10. It’s not just what’s going on above ground. New Orleans, LA reports that as much as 2 of every 5 gallons are fresh water are lost as a result of damaged plumbing infrastructure beneath the city.
  11. Gravel roads are becoming a popular alternative to asphalt roads because they’re easier to maintain and cheaper to lay down. South Dakota is the most notable example of this trend with over 100 miles of asphalt roads converted to gravel.
  12. Almost 50% of American households do not have access to a bus or some kind of transportation.
  13. Our electricity infrastructure is also in need of immediate attention⁴. Rolling blackouts, brownouts and general shortcomings in the US electrical grid costs around 80 billion dollars a year.
  14. One bridge has been called the Achilles Heel of train-based commerce – and it’s been deemed grossly unsafe⁵. The Portal Bridge in New Jersey is responsible for supporting almost 500 trains a day to go up and down the eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington DC. The bridge is a swing bridge - a popular model when built in 1910  - but already considered antiquated by 1950. The bridge must periodically unhinge and swing outward to allow ships and barges through, and then lock back into place. This process costs the United States billions of dollars in delays and waiting times. The wait times to cross the Portal Bridge can be so extensive that trains are backed up all the way to Boston.
  15. 300 bridges become structurally deficient each year in the state of Pennsylvania - or 1% annually of all the state's bridges⁶ .
  16. Traffic jams are not just annoying, they’re expensive. Traffic congestion is expected to increase. The cost of traffic congestion costs the United States approximately $124 billion each year. Between 1995 and 2004, highway mileage grew at an average rate of .2 percent, while vehicle miles traveled increased at an average rate of 2.5 percent. In other words, Americans are travelling more than the rate of highway development.
  17. Every time you fill up your car, you’re paying for your roads. The Federal Gas Tax (18 cents per gallon) represents 90 percent of the total revenue for the National Highway Trust Fund, the fund responsible for federally funded public works and road restoration projects. The fund is currently so underfunded that there have been talks to inject emergency money into the fund through other means of government to avoid total bankruptcy.
  18. Our water infrastructure needs improvement, too. According to the 1999 Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey put out by the Department of Environmental Protection, over $150 million will need to be invested in restoring piping and water systems over 20 years to keep water safe enough to consume.
  19. An overwhelming majority of American dams and water retention apparatuses are deemed ‘unsafe’.  In addition to more than one third of all dam failures or near-failures happening in the last decade since 1874, over 4,000 of America’s dams were considered ‘unsafe’. 1,300 of these dams are considered ‘high hazard’
  20. One third of all highway fatalities are the result of poor road conditions, dated road designs and layout or roadside hazards.
  21. We have a ready and able construction workforce. In 2012, nearly 16 percent of America’s construction workers were unemployed.

Are Things Expected to Look Up Soon?

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking so good for American infrastructure spending.

In June of 2014, Congress passed a series of measures aimed at moving money from different areas of federal spending into the Highway Trust Fund. The steps taken to prevent the fund from reaching zero and falling into bankruptcy. While it’s encouraging to see elected officials acknowledging and acting on the fact that one of the largest sources of funding for public works project is seeing funding, it’s “hand-to-mouth funding” according to one Economist article addressing infrastructure issues nationally and internationally. According to the author, this type of funding strategy makes planning for major projects difficult and ‘encourages city, state and local governments to put off repairs as long as possible’.

What can you do?  How can you help?

Write your elected representatives and demand that they focus on infrastructure improvement. Let them know that roads, bridges, dams, water systems, and transportation systems are more important than any other "issue-of-the-day" and that you expect them to take a leadership role in addressing the real problems.

We are a nation of innovators, builders, and creators. We have the skilled tradespeople, the exceptional engineers and solid manufacturing base to solve our infrastructure problems. All we need is the political will to make infrastructure our highest priority.

Get involved, stay involved, and use your vote to elect individuals who are committed to solving the problem.

Check out all of the CBS 60 Minutes feature hosted by Steve Kroft called Falling Apart for more insights into America's infrastructure situation:

1-6. Falling Apart: America's Neglected Infrastructure. CBS. 23 November, 2014. Television.