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Amid U.S. nation-building, infrastructure's crumbling

Politics aside, one of the best leads I've seen on a news story lately was this one in the New York Times:

“When President Bush informed the nation last Sunday night that remaining in Iraq next year will cost another $87 billion, many of those who will actually pay that bill were unable to watch. They had already been put to bed by their parents.”

The article went on to note that “every dollar of that cost will be borrowed, a loan that economists say will be repaid by the next generation of taxpayers, and the generation after that.” Aside from the monstrous debt burden being imposed upon today's babies, and the children they will have one day — not just from the war, but from tax cuts and other record-setting government spending programs — they're likely to be less than happy that our generation stands to bequeath to them an eroding infrastructure.

It is ironic that, at a time when we've committed mega-billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan an infrastructure that was Middle Ages to begin with, U.S. highways, bridges, civil aviation, sewer treatment facilities, navigable waterways, power grids, waterworks, schools, hospitals, police and fire departments, are deteriorating from lack of funds.

States, cities, and counties, increasingly saddled with unfunded government mandates and steadily declining tax revenues from ever-more balky taxpayers, are having to drastically cut back or eliminate essential services.

Amid our government's unbridled orgy of spending, scant media notice was given the recent report from the American Society of Civil Engineers which awarded an overall D-minus grade for the condition of 12 key U.S. infrastructure categories, “with some areas sliding toward failing grades.”

To correct these shortcomings would require an expenditure of $1.6 trillion over a five-year period, the report says.

Among trends working against efforts to bring the infrastructure of the world's leading industrialized nation up to acceptable standards: (1) state and local budget crises, (2) federal programs that either fall short of meeting the demands for infrastructure maintenance or will soon expire, (3) population growth, and (4) voter opposition to such projects.

“Time is working against our nation's infrastructure,” said ASCE President Thomas L. Jackson. “Our roads are more congested than ever, the number of unsafe and hazardous dams has increased, and our schools are unable to accommodate the mandated reductions in class size.”

Millions of Eastern/Midwest residents were in the dark from the recent energy grid failure, but “millions more are still in the dark about the shaky state of our nation's infrastructure,” Jackson said.

Roads, bridges, and transit systems in all states “are now in jeopardy,” the report notes, and a key program for the 21st century expires Sept. 30, “leaving our nation without a coordinated directive for improving our nation's transportation system.”

So, as we ourselves face a scenario in which funding for vital infrastructure programs must compete head-to-head with expenditures on Iraq and Afghanistan, and we pass on to our children and grandchildren this burden of debt from the government's out-of-control spending, we can only wonder how they will one day view this legacy of fiscal profligacy.

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