Crumbling infrastructure

Date posted: July 17, 2013

A recent bridge collapse in the state of Washington seems to be just one example of the nation’s infrastructure problems. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden considers whether the infrastructure is really falling apart before our eyes.

“I think there are three big issues here. One is that many of our infrastructure components, everything from roads to bridges to water pipes to treatment plants, are simply getting old. And they’re getting old all at once. Many of those were built in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Second problem is our country, of course, has gotten bigger. We’ve gotten richer. So usage of infrastructure – for example, uses of our roads over the last few decades – has increased enormously, so putting more wear and tear on that infrastructure.

“And then thirdly there is more competition today for government funds. It used to be the government exclusively almost did build things and maintain things. Now, of course, we have government programs that help us meet our insurance needs that help us in our old age, et cetera. These programs didn’t really exist in large force many decades ago. And so they are competing with funding for infrastructure.

“So, what this boils down to is, unfortunately, tough decisions have to be made. Government at any point in time does have limited resources, limited funds, and we have needs in infrastructure. We have needs in helping people with retirement, with their medical care. Government officials have to prioritize in order to make decisions about where those funds go.”

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