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It's Time to Fix America's Infrastructure. Here's Where to Start

President Obama believes America must build “21st century infrastructure—modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet,” and in his State of the Union this week he asked the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan, likely the trillion-dollar legislation Senator Bernie Sanders proposed earlier this month. It’s an ambitious plan that many agree is desperately needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers says the US needs massive investments in all essential infrastructure, from bridges and airports to dams and railways. According to the society’s most recent infrastructure report card, the US earns a D+ for its infrastructure. It is, in a word, a mess. This is about much more than potholes. This is about keeping the economy, literally and figuratively, moving. Much of the economic boom the United States has experienced over the last 50 years is because the network of highways makes it easy to ship goods. If it continues into a state of disrepair, the long-term hit to our economy could be catastrophic. “The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees,” the society wrote in the 2013 report, which is issued every four years. Things got a bit better, but not by much. “Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.” Bringing it all up to current standards will be a massive, and massively expensive, undertaking akin to the construction of the interstate highway system. At the bottom line, the US would have to invest $3.6 trillion to bring it all up to snuff by 2020. “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” President Obama in the State of the Union, referring to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. “Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.” There’s a lot of work to be done. Here’s an overview of the American infrastructure that needs to be fixed, and some good places to start the work via WIRED.

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