Unreconstructed

States are poised to spend billions on fixing infrastructure. They might want to fix the construction industry first.
Source: ZACH PATTON, Governing, November 2007

…That’s a big problem because in the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, states are poised to make some big infrastructure investments. As that calamity made clear, many of America’s roadways, bridges and tunnels are in critical condition after decades of deferred maintenance. In some places, the needs are especially pressing. Massachusetts needs to spend $17 billion on repairs, according to one report. In Pennsylvania, the tab for bridge maintenance is $11 billion. In New Jersey, it’s more than $13.5 billion. Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s infrastructure system a grade of “D,” and the group says that fixing the country’s existing problems is a job with a $1.6 trillion price tag.

As states redouble their efforts on maintenance, the trick will be to produce more successful projects such as the MacArthur Maze and fewer tarnished ones along the lines of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. It won’t be easy. Issues of cost overruns and missed deadlines have plagued construction projects for years. And transportation departments will continue to deal with a construction industry that is, in many ways, antiquated, inefficient and wasteful. Minnesota, still shaking off the shock of seeing a key transportation asset crumble into the Mississippi River, is now grappling with its replacement cost soaring toward $400 million. That’s 57 percent higher than the amount the federal government set aside for the bridge. And construction hasn’t even begun yet.

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