Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 10 2015. Potholed Nation—but it doesn’t stop at potholes.




The U.S. is way past that point. 

Just one example—Obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are estimated to be a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year.

That is nearly FIVE 9/11s a year!

Infrastructure is one of these words that makes people’s eyes glaze over. We can relate to house maintenance—but the state of roads, railways, pipelines, the national grid, ports—and so so on—seems rather remote (and we mostly can’t even see sewers). Still, we notice fast enough when infrastructure doesn’t exist—or where it is blatantly deficient. Then, mostly we moan—but rarely do anything out it.

We really should—because the costs of such neglect are horrific.

A byproduct of the American Business Model is steadfast opposition to infrastructure maintenance—even when clearly needed and cost effective. This opposition has its roots in an understandable  reluctance to pay taxes, but has reached such a point of foolishness that the U.S. maintenance backlog now runs into several trillions of dollars.

Gross neglect of infrastructure is just one of the U.S.’s many serious structural problems—and joins a long list of other issues discussed in previous blogs including:

  • Excessive CEO pay.
  • Endemic short-termism.
  • An ethos based upon maximizing shareholder returns to the neglect of just about everything else.
  • Pay discrimination between the sexes.
  • Minimal worker rights.
  • Transferring risk to employees.
  • Lack of vacation rights.
  • Paying most employees inadequately—despite rising costs.

This is just an extract from the usual suspects.

It is worthwhile remembering that there is no sound reason for such manifest neglect of infrastructure—or the numerous other flaws in the American Business Model. The U.S. is the richest country in the world and is positively blessed with resources. The necessary skills are available in profusion. All that stands in the way are greed, ignorance, and ideology.

They seem to be succeeding where all the U.S.’s other enemies have failed. In fact they are not just succeeding. They are downright triumphant. Their practitioners currently control the levers of power.

It is also also worth reflecting that the U.S. spends well over a trillion dollars a year on defense and other issues to do with National Security—with scarcely impressive results. A policy of maintaining expensive bases all over the world and conducting extraordinarily costly wars without end should not be confused with military effectiveness.

A great deal would best be classified as military “make work.” It provokes America’s enemies, fosters a series of arms races, keeps the military busy (keeping the military busy), justifies the money flow to the Military Industrial Congressional Complex (whose focus is the money flow rather than National Security)—but seems incapable of resolving just about any issue. On the contrary—if you examine the track record since 9/11, you will find that active hostility to the U.S. has increased—and the threat from asymmetric warfare (including terrorism) is stronger than ever.

On top of that, blatant threats to the quality and security of the daily life of Americans such as cyber attacks or the quality of the food chain have been largely ignored. Guns and bombs are not the only things that kill.

We are talking about waste on a truly epic scale—year after year, decade after decade. The U.S. does indeed need to be militarily strong—and the case for being militarily dominant is a good one—but current policies are not achieving those goals. They also overlook the fact that the foundation of National Security is a strong economy—which, in turn, requires infrastructure.

Inexcusably,, the necessary minimum investment that is required to keep U.S. infrastructure up to international standards just isn’t happening.

The phrase “wrong choices based on wrong policies” comes to mind.

The following is taken from an NYT story of November 5 2015.

Human Cost Rises as Old Bridges, Dams and Roads Go Unrepaired

By RON NIXON NOV. 5, 2015

From coast to coast, the country’s once-envied collection of bridges, dams, pipelines, sewage treatment plants and levees is crumbling. Studies have shown that a lack of investment in public infrastructure costs billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, as people sit in traffic or wait for delayed shipments.

The Lake Murray dam near Columbia, S.C. After recent heavy rain, 36 dams in South Carolina collapsed and 19 people died in the flooding. Some of the dams were over 100 years old.

But experts on transportation infrastructure say the economic measures obscure the more dire threat to public safety: Every year, hundreds of deaths, illnesses and injuries can be attributed to the failure of bridges, dams, roads and other decaying structures.

There is no national record-keeping of how many deaths, injuries and illnesses are caused by crumbling infrastructure. But the spare data that does exist suggests that structures in need of repair do affect public health and safety.

The federal Department of Transportation estimates that obsolete road designs and poor road conditions are a factor in about 14,000 highway deaths each year. Research by Ted Miller, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which receives financing from the Transportation Department, put the medical cost of highway injuries from poor road conditions at $11.4 billion for 2013, according to the latest data available.

The problem extends beyond roads. Research by the National Transportation Safety Board shows that since 2004, about 77 deaths and 1,400 injuries could have been prevented if railroads had installed a safety system known as Positive Train Control. That includes an Amtrak train derailment in May that killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Philadelphia.

According to the most recent annual survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outbreaks of disease related to drinking water caused 431 cases of illness, 102 hospitalizations and 14 deaths, many linked to aging and crumbling water systems. An independent study in 2008 suggested that the problem could be much larger because many such illnesses are not reported.

In recent years, several well-publicized failures of roads, bridges and oil and natural gas pipelines have highlighted the lack of spending on infrastructure and the inability of strapped states to adequately inspect their structures.




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