America needs a revamp, simple as. In the State of the Union on 30th January, President Trump addressed the legislative agenda and policies for the near future with infrastructure proving front and centre. The American people already had word of a new – long overdue – infrastructure plan about a week prior to the State of the Union, following a leaked White House document which detailed the Infrastructure Incentive Initiative. The document revealed a shocking revelation to the public, as it seems the federal government would only pledge to cover 20% of future infrastructure costs, whereas it is expected that private investors, local communities and state governments commit to the remaining 80% of the cost. Criticised by some as a move that gives an unfair advantage to private investors or even one that encourages a plutocratic approach, the fact that the government plans to match such a low proportion of infrastructure costs is worrying, and certainly does not instil confidence in the public that the government is ready to commit to the cause.
Some say that the defining characteristic of the US is its endless tarmac that meander through cities and stretch across the country – they’re not wrong. However, with a staggering 4.12 million miles of road and an average of 2.28 vehicles per household, the nation is, ironically, restricted geographically and economically by their most common mode of transport. Despite extensive domestic road infrastructure, there is a lack of efficiency and convenience for the overwhelming number of cars on the road. Connectivity between cities not far enough to warrant air travel is low and simply getting from point A to point B can often be tricky and time-consuming. The situation is not helped by crumbling bridges, structural deficiencies, and antiquated infrastructure technology, all of which pose a real threat to those who use them. Consequently, the low quality of infrastructure has led to low social and geographical mobility as well as plateaus in economic development. Yet despite the dire need for change, it seems the government often lacks the efficiency in implementing changes and the correct mindset to enact their plans. All this begs the question: how did we get here?
the nation is, ironically, restricted geographically and economically by their most common mode of transport
It all stemmed from the power of an idea. Following its invention and popularisation, the automobile quickly became a prized possession for individuals, for it was the symbol of independence and status that no citizen could easily resist. Historically, the car is emblematic of personal freedom, and that’s certainly understandable – with a car you can go anywhere with a road, providing you have the time and the money for the fuel to do so. But do the advantages of such freedom really outweigh the deleterious economic and social consequences? The idolisation of the car is integral to the American way of life and and yet this over-reliance on the automobile as the default means of transportation has led to the road’s almost hegemonic control over infrastructure.
Historically, American lawmakers and politicians have favoured plans that minimise the cost of driving, such as reducing fuel prices, in order to make people happy and to foster popular support for their policies. This stems from the legacy of Henry Ford and his model T. In the 1920s, the automobile industry burst into life, helping to drive the economic growth of the roaring 20s. In these early days, the car was king, “the future of transportation”, and America built extensively for it. Indeed, during the period, an average of $1 billion was spent annually on the construction of highways across America. Years on, it has proven difficult to convert certain roads into usage for public transport, just as it is hard to create new infrastructure in cities that are already too crowded. Cars were fine when cities were small and people were not aware of climate change, but the infrastructure of the nation has not kept pace with the country’s developments in other areas.
the infrastructure of the nation has not kept pace with the country’s developments in other areas
Infrastructure projects have stalled due to more than America’s love for the car. Bureaucracy has meant that new roads can take up to ten years to get approved by agencies and local governments for construction, even once they have taken their time passing through Congress. These delays can combine with the lengthy construction period and mean that, by the time all is complete, the new infrastructure can be incongruent with the needs and new circumstances in the society, geography and economy. The government’s prolonged policy-making process produces an “all talk, no action” scenario; exactly what such a vast country like the US does not need.
The factors that shaped American infrastructure into its state today are further exacerbated by the geography of this country. As a nation with such a large landmass, it is inherently difficult to connect all the dots on the map. You might think that there’s a big part of the picture missing here – “what about railways? Surely trains can connected America despite its large geographical size?” However, unlike some European countries renowned for their comprehensive train coverage and railway efficiency, this is not the case across the Atlantic. Not only are train networks and frequencies very limited, they can also be fairly slow. A train from Washington DC to New York takes about three and a half hours, only half an hour faster than driving. In comparison, a train from Rennes to Paris, a journey of a similar distance from DC to New York, only takes two hours. Train tickets in America don’t come cheap either. You think tickets in the UK resemble daylight robbery? Wait till you have a look at the prices in the US: they can cost anywhere between $40 and $400 dollars for a one-way ticket. In addition, many of the trains are not high-speed, making trains a poor alternative to cars. But despite this, there are numerous ways out of this mess.
A solution often mooted is to close the corporate tax loopholes that allow companies to evade tax by stashing money overseas. In theory, with more stringent tax laws tax revenue will increase and there will be more money to build and improve infrastructure. But why address the issue in such an indirect way? Surely there will always be more loopholes? It’s time to stop beating around the bush and start implementing real, achievable policies to make America great again. As my English teacher once said, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” A comprehensive, long-term plan must be drafted and approved as soon as possible. This might seem obvious, or even clichéd, but it’s suggested time and time again establishing a framework is crucial to facilitating future plans.
A solution often mooted is to close the corporate tax loopholes that allow companies to evade tax
Infrastructure, unlike many other issues, is traditionally something that the Democrats and Republicans can work together on, which means the process of discussing and (hopefully) passing a bill can be catalysed. But, in the words of Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, infrastructure is not “sexy or glamorous”, meaning that the issue fails to attract politicians. However, this attitude must be changed. DC and state level officials must see beyond the streamers and confetti to make progress on something that will catapult America’s economy, geographical mobility and social accessibility despite the mundanity of the topic at hand. Repairing America’s road and bridges will not be easy, but the problem will only get worse if it is ignored.
Furthermore, an increase in federal government investment in efficient and long-lasting public transportation is equally important to show the people that the government is making a strong commitment to changing America. The renaissance of streetcars in some medium sized cities in recent years has already proven to bring substantial benefit to local and state economies. This accentuates the importance of building new infrastructure to support both travel between and within cities. A focus on maintenance of current infrastructure is just as pivotal as building anew. This is particularly applicable to elements that are structurally deficient, or are due for an upgrade. These include deteriorating old bridges, poorly paved roads and so much more. The government should not be waiting for something to be broken before they fix it – especially considering the risk that might prove to human life. Additionally, upgrading train tracks to make them compatible with high-speed trains, even without expanding the existing train network, will help American infrastructure go the extra mile.
Well-built, extensive infrastructure is a key catalyst to economic, social and geographical development. So crucial, one may say that access to transportation is arguably the most important factor in reducing poverty. American infrastructure is a long-standing issue that has caused problems for generations, whether you notice them or not. It is certainly a big issue, but ultimately these are problems that can be solved with money we can spend, bureaucracy we can overcome, and promises we can keep. Can we fix it? Yes we can.bookmark me