If you look at America on modern day map, you’ll see every major interstate highway. They cover the entire country coast to coast. These roads are traveled everyday by average Americans. They are every where. Chances are that whoever is reading this page is within a stones throw of a road built by the government. This is what we called our infrastructure in the U.S. But it isn’t only roads. Bridges, dams, railways, canals, ports, airports, and levees are also examples of infrastructure and it affects every body every single day of their lives. Infrastructure is the basic structures needed for a society to function(“Infrastructure”). This means that without infrastructure, live as we know it would cease.
Why is this interesting?
How is it not? Roads are literally every where in our country. Ships and Ports account for 99% of over seas trade activity(“Ports”). Everything around you had to have gotten their somehow, and infrastructure did the job. Infrastructure is the intersection point between my interest in the powers and responsibilities of the federal government, and the time period of the industrial revolution to modern day. The most interesting part of the government combined with the most interesting time period. As a teenager who is interested in government this was the perfect choice for me. I could even see my self running for public office one day, and I know infrastructure would be a part of my platform. It has always interested me how both political parties in America claim infrastructure spending as a priority and yet, there is still much to be done. So infrastructure also connects to my interest of political power dynamics in our country, though that is not the focus of this website. So why do I find this interesting? It combines multiple areas of my own interest: government and the 20th century ,and it also affects me in my day to day life!
While roads have always existed throughout history, the roads of interest here are those whose construction was funded by the government.
The early history began right around the civil war. The industrial revolution started sweeping the nation of America. It was very difficult to get around, and most people didn’t travel much. There were some postal roads that connected major cities but everything was much less connected than it is today. This was a major issue of the day.
As the 19th century progressed. Congress started allotting federal money for public road building, marking the start of a major era of construction. Into the 1900s congress continued to pay for projects, allocating millions for the building and improvement of roads and other projects such as the panama canal(“Transportation Infrastructure Videos”). Railroad building positively exploded during this time period. The government gave countless acres of land to the railroad companies just for the purpose of turning it into a railroad(Kennedy, David M., et al.)
The next stage of infrastructure spending occured in the 20th century. This is when what could be considered most of our modern day infrastructure was built. This period includes such projects as the Hoover Dam and the federal aid highway act of 1956. Bridges were built in large numbers at this time as well leading to the shocking but true statistic that 4 in 10 bridges in the U.S. today are 50 years or older(“Bridges”). This spending in the mid 20th century is also responsible for what is often referred to as the greatest public works project in history: The Federal Highway Act. This act was signed into law by president Eisenhower, and is considered one of the biggest accomplishments of his term(“Highway History.”). Again, the Hoover Dam is an example of development at this time. Built in just five years and during the great depression of the 30s, It became what the ASCE called a Modern Civil Engineering Wonder(Bureau of Reclamation). This period of time was exciting as the country became easier to get around and the government was spending money on infrastructure, but now that a more modern base had been laid, the issue became maintenance.
How’s it hangin’ now?
While one can point to many places in the 20th century and find an impressive public works project, these projects, like all things, become less functional with age. The solid base that had been laid is starting to crumble. In the modern age there are countless statistics that indicate a desperate need for improvement in our infrastructure. The ASCE sheds some much needed light on the issue in their most recent report. The roads, for example, are chronically congested, Americans having spent 6.9 billion hours in traffic in 2014(“Roads”). The same source said that delays on the road last year cost the country 160 billion dollars in fuel and wasted time. The decay of infrastructure doesn’t stop there. 9.1% of the nations bridges had problems with structural integrity in 2016, meaning that there were 188 million trips across an unsound bridge per day(“Bridges”). It’s not just transportation infrastructure either. The 90,580 dams in the United States share an average age of 56 years old. Furthermore, the amount of high hazard potential dams is up at 17%, and this number will only get larger with inaction(“Dams”). Since America built its first infrastructure to when it invested in building one for a modern nation and even further to the cry for help of the present day infrastructure, this issues continues to permeate everyone’s daily life and rightfully deserves the attention of powerful politicians and constituents alike.
What to do
The deterioration of the American infrastructure is an issue today that requires the immediate attention of the nation. The introduction of America’s infrastructure was huge in the 19th and 20th centuries, but those time periods were obviously a long time ago. Nothing is permanent and America’s infrastructure is definitely the exception. As america’s infrastructure continues to age, it becomes increasingly inefficient and costly. Just one example of this is the ports of the U.S. which enable approximately 26% of economic activity yet received a C+ grade when examined by the American Society of Civil Engineers(“Ports”). The easy and only solution the problem of American infrastructure is to put more money into it. However, this obviously presents it’s own set of challenges. If it were easy to find money to invest, the world would be a very different place. So the money must come from somewhere. There are a couple ways of approaching finding this solution. The first is from a constituents point of view. It one truly wishes to see change with government spending they can start a letter writing campaign to their local representative. The other angle to approach from is one of a person with lots of power already. Assuming changes could be made easily within the government, how could one fix infrastructure? In this case a seemingly probable way to fix such a need would be to raise the U.S. tax on gas. The current federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, but there are also additional gas taxes in each state(Drenkard). In 2013 gas taxes and other motor vehicle fees accounted for only 41.4% of local and state road spending(Drenkard). This percent continues to drop as the taxes are not adjusted to inflation(Drenkard). And according to the ASCE, the gas tax “must be raised by at least 25 cents per gallon and tied to inflation to restore its purchasing power”(“Investment”). It seems that if a being of political power wished for a way to help improve America’s infrastructure, raising the gas tax would be a very effective way to do so seeing as the gas tax primarily pays for infrastructure as is. Not only would this allocate more funds to the cause of infrastructure, but it would discourage the purchasing of gas in the first place. This would motivate investment in other forms of renewable energy which in turn would benefit the American power infrastructure as well while discouraging driving which would help to preserve the newly rebuilt roads.
More than one way to rebuild a road!
It would be crazy to assume there’s only one way to do anything, and building America’s infrastructure is no different. What do you think America should do about the infrastructure problem? Or are you not even bothered by traffic? Let us know below! And if you totally disagree with me, that’s great too! I’m always open for constructive criticism and would be grateful for any suggestions for improvement on this website.
Appelbaum, Binyamin. “Public Works Funding Falls as Infrastructure Deteriorates.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Aug. 2017,
ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/.
“Bridges.” ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/bridges/.
Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region Web Team, Hoover Dam Web Designer. “HOOVER DAM.” Historical Information, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/history/storymain.html.
“Dams.” ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/dams/.
Drenkard, Scott. “State Gasoline Tax Rates in 2017.” Tax Foundation, Tax Foundation, 28 Nov. 2017, taxfoundation.org/state-gasoline-tax-rates-2017/.
“Highway History.” U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration, www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/history.cfm.
“Infrastructure.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/infrastructure.
“Investment.” ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/solutions/investment/.
Kennedy, David M., et al. The Brief American Pageant: a History of the Republic. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.
“Looking for an Ancestor in the Panama Canal Zone, 1904-1914.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/fall/panama.html.
“Ports.” ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/ports/.
“Roads.” ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2018, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/cat-item/roads/.
Rose, George. “Golden Gate Bridge.” Time, Time Inc., San Francisco, 9 Jan. 2015, time.com/3661935/golden-gate-bridge-closure-traffic/.
“Transportation Infrastructure Videos.” America on the Move, National Museum of American History, amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/themes/story_47_1.html.
“Visiting Hoover Dam.” Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/history/storymain.html.