As the title of this blog proclaims, I am a baby boomer – but certainly not a curmudgeon.  I’m old enough to remember first-hand when America was still a shining beacon of progress and prosperity. Back when the interstate system was still new and growing; heck, I even remember when I-95 wasn’t even completed yet and I had to walk to school…uphill…both ways!  I grew up marveling at the Apollo program as America took its first steps on the moon and at the excitement of home computers hitting the market. Lee Greenwood took the words right out of my head when he sang “I’m proud to be an American.”   You get the idea.

That’s why it’s interesting to look at today’s international landscape and see China’s economic growth drastically outpacing America’s. Investments in modern infrastructure have allowed places like Dubai to gain international recognition (and competitive advantage) while U.S. ports and roadways struggle and crumble. Political paralysis and special interests successfully lobby in their best interests, but at whose expense?  Could America make it to the moon and back today?  Could we afford it?

Highways and Bridges

The last Infrastructure Report Card (2013) from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+, noting that over a quarter of our bridges are either deficient or structurally obsolete. Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. Estimates indicate that to maintain all of the nation’s highways in their current condition would cost $101 billion in annual investment while it would take $170 billion annually to create significant improvements.


Rail networks fared slightly better, earning a C+ (the highest grade on the U.S. report card). Unfortunately, if you look closer at commuter and transit rail, the U.S. drops the ball again. For example, The Metro, D.C.’s commuter network, has experienced and allowed multiple system failures in recent years. Washingtonians are frustrated by the news that The Metro needs $25 billion in funding over the next 10 years to keep the system running. The grade for freight rail should be much higher since each owner is responsible for maintaining the condition of its track and right of way, including bridges and tunnels along the route. The grade is NOT much higher.


Airports are no exception. Gates are woefully too small for the modern aircraft that utilize them. Airlines are producing planes that are having difficulty navigating through many of our largest airports; sounds eerily familiar to port dredging…but we’ll get to that shortly. Overcrowding and demand has resulted in congestion and accidents as cargo competes with commercial flights. New York’s LaGuardia Airport has been called “the worst airport in America” by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo while New York’s Port Authority cited it would be easier to just tear it down and start fresh!

Ports and Inland Waterways

Inland waterways have not seen an update since the 1950s. This is particularly surprising since the equivalent of 51 million truck moves are handled by these waterways every year. More than half of the locks that support the system are over 50 years old and are in need of repair. As a perfect example of bungling port improvements, New York-New Jersey Port Authority has been working for the past 20 years to deepen its channel to 50 feet in order to allow mega-vessels to gain access to four of its five largest terminals. While the channel dredging project was almost completed, they missed one significant piece… the Bayonne Bridge that spans the main shipping channel leading into Newark Bay is too low to allow the megaships to pass. The entire bridge needs to be raised from its current clearance height of 151 feet to 215 feet so they can increase the vessel capacity from the current 9,200 TEU threshold to 14,000 TEUs after the bridge is raised. Oh, and there is some question about whether the new channel and harbor can safely handle vessels larger than 12,500 TEUs. While the number of vessel calls has decreased by 7% in the past five years, the average size of vessels calling at U.S ports increased by 9%. The inability to handle cargo effectively and efficiently has reduced the U.S. to low international port rankings with Los Angeles ranking the highest at number 19 and Long Beach at 21 globally.

I say, “ENOUGH!!!”  And I want you to say it with me…”ENOUGH!!!” While national dominance in the economic landscape can shift, it does not give us a right to sit on our laurels. Far too many Americans are out of work, and this work connects us to the economy we need to survive. We cannot let the infrastructure of our livelihood continue to crumble beneath the weight of our consumption and political impotence.  So, I challenge us, as proud Americans, to change our course and turn this great ship of ours forward again.