I was once told that C’s get degrees. It’s a common adage that fills any student who receives a less-than-satisfactory grade with a glimmer of hope. It reminds students that life as we know it doesn’t begin and end with a grade point average, and it grants some humor to an extraordinary not funny situation. Getting a D is another story. A story that usually ends by retaking a class that you’ve already learned to hate. There aren’t many words of compassion for someone who’s come to the conclusion that summer term is the only plausible way to graduate on time.
I guess taking a summer course isn’t the end of the world — just the end of some of your parent’s hard-earned money — and it forces unlucky students to count their blessings as they get a second chance. Colleges have built this re-do system into their infrastructure to keep the checks coming in and allow students to accomplish their ultimate goal of getting a degree. The infrastructure of the United States may need a similar get-out-of-jail-free card — minus the “free” part.
In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week, he informed America that our infrastructure is crumbling — literally. Roads, bridges, transportation systems, drinking water systems and our methods of delivering energy have been scrutinized by the American Society of Civil Engineers in its annual infrastructure report card. The ASCE is the authority on infrastructure in the U.S. and has given us an overall grade of a D. But what exactly does that grade mean?
It means that given the current state of our infrastructure, our systems will begin to fail in the very near future. It means that the estimated lifetime of structures, like dams and bridges, are coming to an end. It means that America will need a facelift for the ages on pretty much everything we have come to rely on.
Through research and studies, the ASCE has decided that in order to prevent our country from falling apart around us, an estimated $2.2 trillion investment is needed over the next five years. Though this egregious sum isn’t quite equitable to a semester’s tuition, infrastructure is a required course in just about every country.
I’ll admit that majoring in civil engineering has made me a bit biased — if Obama wanted to give your profession $2.2 trillion you’d be jumping for joy as well — but that doesn’t mean that my vision is clouded by job prospects. This problem is about as serious as they come and letting this information pass by is simply not an option for a variety of reasons.
Drinking water systems — receiving a D-, the lowest grade in the study — are becoming obsolete. The life expectancy of many water plants is shortening and leaking pipes are losing about 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water a day. Soon, the cost of cleaning and transporting drinking water will be more than the allotted funding needed to keep systems running.
Roads received a D-, based on quality and traffic congestion, and there aren’t many residents in Michigan who would argue with that grade. The ASCE estimates that one-third of our roads need repair, and traffic congestion costs Americans about 4.2 billion hours a year of sitting mindlessly in traffic. I don’t know about you, but that’s about 4.2 billion more hours of radio-broadcasted Ke$ha than Americans want to listen to.
I could go on with this list for another 700 words. The statistics are equally alarming for each of the 15 categories that the ASCE investigated, and each grade raises the same question of how these problems are going to be fixed.
The ASCE has determined that addressing these issues will require America to increase federal leadership, promote sustainable systems that can stand the test of time, develop plans to implement these new systems, figure out what it will take to stop the crumbling process and — of course — find a way to come up with the $2.2 trillion needed. It will be an arduous journey, but without a well-engineered plan for our infrastructural future, we could be in for a bumpy ride — literally.
Joe Sugiyama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org