October 10, 2021

Infrastructure: The Downfall of the United States

Tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, like this one pictured in 2018, were flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The United States has a mixed history with infrastructure. In 1956, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, which created the Interstate Highway System, arguably one of America's greatest innovations. This allowed cheaper shipping and inexpensive travel, as well as the implementation of surburbanization, resulting in cheaper housing, and increased tourism. However, in recent years, the United States has been falling behind. In 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a C- in their Report Card for America's Infrastructure, concluding that 43% of public roadways are in "poor or mediocre condition". For a country depicted as the land of opportunity and promise, this is quite embarrassing.

The data from this report shows that the United States' infrastructure is regressing to conditions often seen in developing nations. According to the report, "Currently, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation’s bridges, are considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in 'poor' condition. Unfortunately, 178 million trips are taken across these structurally deficient bridges every day". This is on par with countries such as Russia, which has invested $87.5 billion into a modernization plan to revitalize its roads, airports, railways, and other transportation infrastructure through 2030, but its impacts have yet to be seen, as there is rampant corruption and local governors often funnel off money from these projects for their personal gain.

An example of what most American cities might become in the near future is Novosibirksk, the administrative center of the Novosibirsk Oblast in Siberia and the third most populous city in Russia. Moscow architect and YouTuber Ilya Varlamov posted an amazing yet disturbing video on Novosibirsk, in which he covers the newly but poorly built apartment complexes built in the city as well as the evident poverty and terrible living conditions that its people have to face. Varlamov even claimed that Soviet housing was better than what he saw. The roads in the city have so many potholes that they look like cannonballs have been hit against the asphalt over and over again. Some streets were built without any stop signs, speed limits, etc. A common problem found in most Russian cities is also apparent in Novosibirsk: the roads have been expanded so much in order to account for an influx of cars and other motor vehicles. However, this only encourages more automobilization, making the original problem even worse. Instead, cities need to invest in more public transportation such as buses, trolleys, and trains that are paid through tax dollars. After looking at these videos, I cannot say that I would like to live in Novosibirsk and am concerned that this may be the future of American cities.

Outside of an unfinished commie block style apartment complex in Novosibirsk. These apartments are rented out to people at exorbitant prices, but the people do not realize what they are paying for.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is China. China has been leading the world in infrastructure development, from investment in rural roads to power and communications upgrades to the implementation of high-speed transportation in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. For example, the high-speed rail network in China reached just under 38,000 km (24,000 mi) in total length by the end of 2020. The high-speed rail network will continue to grow as it is predicted to reach 70,000 km (43,000 mi) in 2035. Also, China is currently testing a maglev prototype train that runs at 600 km/h and planned a 2025 launch date. China also has the largest highway system in the world. This comes with some negative side effects: a significant rise in traffic accidents as well as environmental deterrioration and an increased dependence on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the country is also struggling with water pollution, with 8.2% of China's rivers having been polluted by industrial and agricultural waste in 2019. However, the government is starting to tackle some of the pollution problems and the country is the largest investor in renewable energy. What is also promising is the country's new and exciting efforts to develop and implement molten salt nuclear reactors, which are safer and cheaper compared to today's crumbling reactors.

The United States needs a wake-up call. The question is when is the country going to wake up to resolve the problems facing it. If the United States is able to face these issues quickly with few stumbles, the country will be able to maintain its superpower position and keep China in second. If the Democratic and Republican Parties are not able to come together to implement changes to the country's infrastructure, Washington D.C. might as well start to be known as Novosibirsk.