Quotes: US MENA   Enter Symbol: NewsLetter: Search: advanced

US- Infrastructure rhetoric is a bridge to nowhere  Join our daily free Newsletter

MENAFN - Arab News - 17/02/2013

No. of Ratings : 0
Add to Mixx!


(MENAFN - Arab News) Whenever the phrase "our crumbling infrastructure" passes the lips of a politician or appears in the pages of a newspaper, I change the password on my checking account and move my wallet to the front pocket of my jeans.

So when US President Barack Obama invoked our "aging infrastructure badly in need of repair" in his recent State of the Union address and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria used his perch to complain that Obama wasn't proposing near enough for infrastructure, I closed my bank accounts, canceled my credit cards, converted my liquid investments into gold bullion, dumped them into 55-gallon drums, rolled the drums into a backyard pit and poured a load of cement over the heap.

It's not that infrastructure doesn't crumble - everything turns to dust eventually.

Obviously, useful bridges, ports, airports and highways need to be maintained, and as a country grows it needs new ones. It's just that the press allows members of the civil engineering-industrial complex to bamboozle them into believing that all calls for building infrastructure are equal.

The bamboozling usually begins with a sweeping declaration about America's shoddy highway bridges and the urgent need to repair them.
Obama hit his mark in his State of the Union speech where he plugged his "Fix-It-First" program, which would mend the "nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country."

Zakaria finds Fix-It-First insufficient, calling it a mere "Band-Aid on America's growing cancer of failing infrastructure."

Citing the 2009 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which gave the nation's infrastructure a "D" and estimated the cost of repairing it at 2.2 trillion, Zakaria demands the dramatic expansion of American infrastructure.

The ASCE recently upped its estimate of how much should be spend on infrastructure by 2020 to 2.7 trillion (pdf), which is two-thirds greater than the feds, the states and local governments are expected to spend on it by then.

Zakaria expressed even greater enthusiasm for spending infrastructure trillions in a November piece for Time.

Zakaria isn't alone in calling for massive infrastructure spending by the government. Business Insider's Henry Blodget is on board, as is the Washington Post's Neil Irwin, the Economist, the Atlantic, Edward Luce of the Financial Times and others in the press.

A current World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness ranks US infrastructure as 25th-best in the world, behind Barbados, the UAE and Switzerland, which is No. 1.

The degrading infrastructure, says the ASCE, could cost the average American household 3,100 by the 2020 if current trends continue.
Four years ago, I wrote a column for Slate about the exaggerations of the infrastructure hawks, who were filling newspapers and airwaves with similar warnings that our roads, water pipes and electric grid were verging on collapse. (Many of the ideas in that column are reprised here, although I like my new, rejiggered intro better.)

Then as now, the hawks' favorite infrastructure apocalypse anecdote was the tens of thousands of "structurally deficient" bridges in the land.
Zakaria currently asserts that these deficient bridges are "falling down," but he's totally wrong.

As the Federal Highway Administration explains, when inspectors grade a bridge as "structurally deficient" they're not saying it's unsafe, only that it is deteriorating and its load-carrying capacity is reduced. Likewise, bridges can be graded "functionally obsolete" because their design is outdated - too narrow or not enough clearance underneath, for example - and still be safe.
The federal rating system gives an "early warning sign for engineers to use to prioritize funding," as the Maryland State Highway Administration points out. "If a bridge becomes unsafe, it will be closed."

- Jack Shafer is a Reuters columnist but his opinions are his own.

In 2007, when there were 72,500 structurally deficient bridges in the US, and after the I-35 disaster in Minneapolis, which was caused by a design flaw, federal Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovell III told (pdf) Congress that "most bridges that are classified as structurally deficient can continue to serve traffic safely if they are properly inspected, the bridges maximum load ratings are properly calculated, and, when necessary, the proper maximum weight limits are posted."

As much as I trust America's civil engineers to design safe bridges, I'm a little reluctant to endorse the infrastructure report cards issued by the 140,000-member ASCE.

The 2.7 trillion infrastructure bill they'd like us to foot amounts to a full employment act for the society's members, something that goes unsaid in the press corps' uncritical coverage of the ASCE's report cards. Before I get all hinky about our crumbling infrastructure, exhume my gold and contribute it to the infrastructure revival, I'd like to see an infrastructure report card from disinterested parties. The disinterested parties I seek are not the union leader, the business leader and the Democratic former governor who spoke in support of three infrastructure "mega-bills" this week before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Infrastructure overhaul will obviously benefit some - unions, businesses and politicians praising them before congressional committees, for example - but as with most government projects, somebody always ends up paying for more than they consume. For these losers, the infrastructure makeover will be like playing a hand of poker in which everybody contributes to the pot but they are dealt no cards. The undisputed winners of any infrastructure sweepstakes will be the construction contractors retained to do the building. Last month, 24/7 Wall St. identified 11 companies, ranging from Fluor to KBR to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, that would most profit most from an infrastructure makeover.

Anything with a 2.7 trillion price tag should be approached with suspicion, especially if its boilerplate sales pitch always includes crisis-mongering talk about structurally deficient bridges. The political debate over what to build would benefit if policymakers and the press stopped grouping such disparate public-works categories of surface transportation, airports, waterways and ports, the electricity grid and waterworks all under the all-encompassing rubric of "infrastructure" and started asking narrowing questions. Perhaps the infrastructure pie should be sliced a little thinner so we can ask more precise questions about it. Was some infrastructure overbuilt and not deserving of repair today just because it exists? Does every infrastructure "need" demand a flotilla of dollars from Washington? Must we rescue every aging bridge in rapidly depopulating states like Michigan? Shouldn't infrastructure projects such as harbor dredging be billed to those who directly benefit from them, and not the government?

Many have learned to ask skeptical questions about the effectiveness or necessity of, say, military spending or agricultural subsidies or bank bailouts. The only reason infrastructure gets a comparative free pass is because the word casts a magical spell of dumbfoundment on too many of us. Cast it off, I say.

- Jack Shafer is a Reuters columnist but his opinions are his own.


  MENA News Headlines
Apr 24 2014Qatar- HH Sheikha Moza Meets Mayor of Kobe Visits RIKEN Research Institution ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Kobe April 24 - Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education Science and Community Development (QF) today held a meeting with the ...

Apr 24 2014Qatar- Sidra-BMC Event Boosts Biomedical Research Publishing ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Doha April 24 - A symposium organised jointly by Sidra Medical Research Centre and BioMed Central (BMC) mulled trends in research and on open access publishing here ...

Apr 24 2014Qatar- Mannai Corp Q1 Net Profit up 73% to QR 150.1 Million ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Doha April 24 - Qatar Exchange listed Mannai Corporation (QE: MCCS) net profit is up 73% to QR 150.1 Million for the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 ending March 31 ...

Apr 24 2014Bahraini firms forecasted to grow 10 pct ,MENAFN
(MENAFN) In a report based on a study of over 650 companies across GCC, Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz) forecasts a growth of the Bahraini companies' earnings by 10 percent in 2014, Gulf Daily News ...

Apr 24 2014Israeli Army Storms Deir Samit Village West of Hebron ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) bron April 24 - Israeli army forces stormed at dawn Thursday Deir Samit village southwest of Hebron city in the West Bank. The Israeli forces conducted raid and search ...

Apr 24 2014Qatar Airways to add more seats on Doha-Vienna route ,MENAFN
(MENAFN) Qatar Airways plans to offer more 1.700 seats on its Doha-Vienna route beginning from September 2014, according to Gulf News. The company aims to expand the growing passenger demand from ...

Apr 24 2014Qatar- QFC Authority Five-a-Side Football Tournament Kicks Off ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Doha April 24 - Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Authority's first Five-a-side Football Tournament is displaying dribbling skills of executives from Doha's financial ...

Apr 24 2014Georgian Justice Minister Leaves Doha ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Doha April 24 - HE Minister of Justice of Georgia Tia Tsulukiana left Doha on Thursday morning wrapping up a two-day official visit to the country. An agreement on ...

Apr 24 2014Egyptian Premier Off to Chad ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Cairo April 24 - Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlib left cairo on Thursday for Chad the first leg of a three-day two-state trip that will also take him to Tanzania ...

Apr 24 2014Qatar Stock Exchange Down 0.05% ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Doha April 24 - The Qatar Exchange ended in the red area when trading closed Thursday at 12954.93 points (0.05%) down 6.63 points from the previous closing of 12961.56 ...

Apr 24 2014Israeli Tanks Enter Gaza Border area ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Gaza April 24 - Six Israeli military tanks on Thursday entered a border area in the southern Gaza Strip witnesses said. The tanks crossed into Gaza in an area called ...

Apr 24 2014Australian Federal Parliament Deputy Speaker Meets HE Qatari Ambassador ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Canberra April 24 - Australian Federal Parliament Deputy Speaker Bruce Scott met here Thursday with HE Qatar's Ambassador to Australia Yousef bin Ali Al ...

Apr 24 2014Afghan Guard Shoots Dead 3 Foreigners in Hospital ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Kabul April 24 - Three foreigners including a doctor were shot dead and their colleague wounded when a guard of a private Cure Hospital opened fire on them in the ...

Apr 24 2014President Salva Kiir Relieves his Chief of the General Staff ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Juba April 24 -South Sudanese President Salva Kiir relieved Chief of the General Staff of south sudan army James Hoth Mai. This came in a presidential decree aired ...

Apr 24 2014Omani non-oil exports to enter African markets ,MENAFN
(MENAFN) A senior official at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) said that the Sultanate is seeking expansion in new African markets, in a time it is looking forward to reduce its ...

Apr 24 2014US Secretary of State Meets Egyptian Intelligence Chief ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) shington April 24 - US Secretary of State John Kerry has met with the Egyptian Intelligence Chief Major General Mohammed Ahmed Fareed al-Tohami who is currently ...

Apr 24 2014Egypt's Interim President Receives Phone Call from South African President ,Qatar News Agency
(MENAFN - Qatar News Agency) Cairo April 24 - Egypt's Interim President Adly Mansour has received a telephone call from President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma in which they discussed ...

Apr 24 2014Sharjah Ladies Club organizes "Sharjah Ladies run" at the University City ,MENAFN Press
(MENAFN Press) Sharjah Ladies Club gears up to launch "Sharjah Ladies run" at the Sharjah University City. With over 250 participants, the activity aims to encourage women and enable them to ...

Apr 24 2014Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise to address the network application challenge with new access switch, added analytics and SDN capabilities ,MENAFN Press
(MENAFN Press) The Enterprise division of Alcatel-Lucent recently unveiled new technology to address the challenges created by pervasive mobility and the explosion of new applications being ...

Apr 24 2014UAE's Jumeirah to expand portfolio in Dubai ,MENAFN
(MENAFN) UAE's Jumeirah Group is planning to add additional hotels to its Dubai portfolio in the following 6 years, Arabian Business reported. The luxury hotelier's president and group CEO said ...


Click to Apply



Middle East North Africa - Financial Network

MENAFN News Market Data Countries Tools Section  

Middle East North Africa - Financial Network

Main News
News By Industry
News By Country
Marketwatch News
UPI News
Comtex News

IPO News
Islamic Finance News
Private Equity News

How-To Guides
Technology Section

Travel Section

Search News

Market Indices
Quotes & Charts

Global Indices
Arab Indices

US Markets Details


Oil & Energy

Currencies Cross Rates
Currencies Updates
Currency Converter

USA Stocks
Arab Stocks

Saudi Arabia 

Investment Game
Economic Calendar
Financial Glossary

Portfolio Tracker


Financial Calculators

RSS Feeds [XML]

Corporate Monitor


Real Estate
Submit Your Property

Arab Research
Buy a Research

Press Releases
Submit your PR

Join Newsletters

© 2000 menafn.com All Rights Reserved.  Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Advertise | About MENAFN | Career Opportunities | Feedback | Help