Thursday, February 16, 2012

An additional $344 billion per year for infrastructure improvements

ASCE's Infrastructure Report Card (2009) has 11 Ds in 15 infrastructure categories.  The total bill for improving our national grade point average is roughly $2.2 trillion - - over $7,000 per person.

What if we could increase our national grade point average with a payback in a remarkable six or so years?  What if we had an additional $300 billion per year to improve our bridges and expand our water resources?  What about doing this with no new taxes or higher user fees?  Sounds almost too good to be true.

The bridge in the picture is clearly in need of repair.  The root cause of the problem however, is not politics, or inaction, or deficits, or poor construction.  Most parts of our infrastructure woes start with us - - waiting in the drive thru at Taco Bell.  According to economist Kenneth Trope, by 2018 the U.S. will spend an astonishing $344 billion per year treating obesity - - more than one health dollar out of every five.  If our bridges are a D - - we are collectively an F on the health scale.  Like our bridges and dams, we are not getting better with time.  Y. Wang and his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Medical School point out that based on current data, the unfeasible but likely outcome is that all American adults will be overweight or obese in 2048.  Who pays?  The same people that already have a bill for the $7,000.

The next bridge that goes down in a river, think to yourself - - was it a funding problem or too many trips to Taco Bell?  In a world of shrinking and competing fiscal resources - - civilizations will be graded by their collective choices and decisions.  Health care and infrastructure improvements are not two separate systems.  Everything in a world of budget constraints is linked and tightly coupled - - if you consume excess fiscal resources in X, you will come up short in Y.  Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, but not to his or her own facts.  You can read the facts or go to the local mall and actually see the facts.  Too many trips to the Taco Bell produces an unsupportable national burden on our economic well being - - this includes our national infrastructure. 

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