Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, 01 November 2009


By now, I’m sure that most of you have heard about the cable collapse on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge, [1] and the various traffic problems that inevitably resulted from its closure. [2] I am actually a bit more interested in a related story run by CNN that discussed, among other things, the dire state of various bridges throughout the Republic. [3] According to the latter article, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in 2008 estimated that the cost of repairing all of the nation’s defective bridges would total roughly 140 billion USD; meanwhile, earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated that more than 26% of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. [4]

The reason these little tidbits of information caught my attention is how this correlates with the money allocated for infrastructure improvements / repairs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA ’09), about which, if you’ll recall, I have been (and remain) less than enthusiastic. For the record, ARRA ’09 allocated a whopping 81 billion USD for infrastructure improvements, of which only 27.5 billion USD was allocated specifically for highway and bridge construction. [5] Consider, for a moment, the original intent of the ARRA: to provide funds across the nation that could be immediately put to use – creating jobs is generally stated as the overall goal, but ultimately, the underlying goal was simply to get the money spent, so that said money would be injected into the Republic’s faltering economy. So, let’s think about this for a moment: ARRA ’09 allocates a total of 787 billion USD towards spending initiatives and tax cuts; last year – prior to the implosion of our economy, mind you – AASHTO estimates that 140 billion USD would be needed to fund repairs of bridges across the Republic; just to hammer the point home, ASCE indicates that over a quarter of the bridges around the Republic are in dire need of repairs. The net result? Congress, via ARRA ’09, allocates funds amounting to just under 20% [6] of what AASHTO estimates would be needed to fix the bridges that are most in need of improvement. [7]

To be fair, there could be a number of reasons how this situation came to pass, and why it may not have averted the incident at the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. Perhaps, AASHTO overstated their estimate; perhaps, it would have been impossible to mobilize the necessary workforce to begin such repairs in a timely fashion; perhaps both ASCE and AASHTO are wrong about their findings; the list goes on. Regardless, this entire situation strikes me as an enormous missed opportunity, not only for Congress and the President, but also for our Republic at large, given that, if both ASCE and AASHTO are indeed correct, these repairs are desperately needed and they would be persistent benefits of the massive borrowing / spending spree embodied by ARRA ’09.

Or maybe, I’m just crazy and have no idea what I’m talking about. After all, ARRA has successfully saved or created 650,000 jobs since its creation last February. [8] Yup, that should make a huge dent in the, er, millions of jobs lost in that same period of time.


[1]: CNN article, 27 October 2009

[2]: CNN article, 01 November 2009

[3]: CNN article, 30 October 2009

[4]: In case y’all were wondering about these figures, I decided to do a little digging. I already knew about the ASCE report, since I read it when it was released earlier this year; I vaguely recall hearing about the AASHTO report last year, but it was (unsurprisingly) overshadowed by the implosion of the financial markets later in the year. If you’re interested in reading either source, check out the following links. Press release for the AASHTO report available here; Summary of the ASCE “Report Card” for the nation’s infrastructure available here.

[5]: Wikipedia article with allocations available here. Yeah yeah, I know…normally, I try to provide direct annotations to the actual source itself, but let’s face it…I just don’t feel like trying to read through the entirety of the ARRA text. If you’re masochistic enough to do it, here it is; in all its glory. Have fun with that. That said, the former source sounds about right in it’s allocations, given the seemingly haphazard way the ARRA funds were provided.

[6]: Strictly speaking, 19.6%: 27.5 billion / 140 billion = 0.1964; 0.1964 x 100 = 19.6%.

[7]: Also, don’t forget that this figure represents total spending for bridges and roads. If we wanted to get nasty, we could assume that only half of the 27.5 billion USD figure is actually intended for bridge repairs, which would (naturally) result in a much lower figure bridge funding…

[8]: Washington Post article, 31 October 2009


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