In Need of Repair

November 6, 2017
David von Drehle for TIME, adapted by TFK editors
RICH PEDRONCELLI—AP

Nearly 150 years ago, workers hammered the last spike in America’s first coast-to-coast railroad. Then came grand train stations, big bridges, and the endless ribbon of highways. These were spectacular engineering achievements. They became monuments to American ingenuity and power.

Now many symbols of U.S. strength are crumbling. The American Society of Civil Engineers grades U.S. infrastructure every four years. The report rates the condition of our roads and bridges. It also rates our electric supply and water supply. On the 2017 infrastructure report card, the U.S. received a D+.

ROAD REPAIR It could cost $57 billion to fix California’s highways.

RICH PEDRONCELLI—AP

President Donald Trump has promised to spend big money on rebuilding. He announced his plan in June. He says the federal government will invest $200 billion over the next 10 years. Another $800 billion will come from private companies and state and local governments.

“Together we will fix it,” Trump said at an event in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We will create the first-class infrastructure our country and our people deserve.”

Rebuilding America

What will it take to rebuild the U.S.? There’s more to it than fixing roads and bridges. The electrical grid is old. An update will make it more efficient. Roads need the technology to prepare them for driverless cars. And 34 million Americans without high-speed Internet are waiting for access.

These are necessary updates. They are not physical monuments to U.S. greatness. You can’t see them like you can see a big new bridge. But infrastructure experts argue these advancements will make our country great again.

TEAR IT DOWN A construction crew demolishes a crumbling bridge on California’s coast in March. It was damaged in a storm.

VERN FISHER— MONTEREY HERALD/AP

Most Americans support an infrastructure update. A CNN news poll found that 79% want the president to spend more on rebuilding. State and local officials are making lists. They have many projects they’d like to tackle. They are hoping to catch the president’s eye.

But before any rebuilding projects begin, lawmakers must agree to spend the money. Trump is a member of the Republican Party. Republicans currently control Congress. But they may want to cut spending, not increase it.

How will the job get done? Democrats and Republicans will have to team up. Trump said so in a statement to TIME last spring. “We need members of both parties—partnering with industry and workers—to join together to repair, rebuild, and renew infrastructure in the United States,” he said. So far, no infrastructure bill has been introduced in Congress.

BUILD A BRIDGE A new high-tech bridge (left) replaces the old Tappan Zee Bridge, in New York.

NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY AUTHORITY

America awaits a plan. Meanwhile, we can think about America’s rebuilding project. How much should we spend? How should we spend it? The best infrastructure investments begin in the imagination. They are bold bets on tomorrow.

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