Crumbling Infrastructure: A Continuing Crisis of the System

Broken pipe in Jackson, Mississippi, winter 2021

When harsh winter storms brought chaos in the south-central U.S. last month, it was an extreme reminder that the infrastructure that should help sustain our lives is crumbling. But this isn’t new information. The warning signs have been there for years.

Two years ago, poorly maintained power lines in California sparked massive forest fires and the disruption of life for millions. In recent years, water systems in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey and dozens of other cities were found to have dangerously high levels of lead and other toxins. In last month’s storms, water systems in southern cities like Austin, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi froze, cracked, and spilled over. In 2018, derailments of New Jersey Transit trains on tracks leading into New York’s Penn Station shut down rail transport in and out of one of the busiest train stations in the world. One month ago, part of California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway washed away into the ocean after heavy rains. In 2007, an entire bridge in Minnesota collapsed with no warning, killing thirteen people. In a larger example of how far behind the Unites States is in infrastructure maintenance, a 2016 study of New Jersey’s bridges, tunnels, hazardous waste, solid waste, ports, energy, levees, railroads, transit and wastewater systems graded the state’s infrastructure a D-.

What happened in Texas and Mississippi last month are only the most recent examples of this country’s dangerously crumbling infrastructure. We need safe roads, bridges, transportation, sewage systems and drinking water. But our human needs aren’t prioritized in this economy.

In the coming months, we’ll hear politicians talk about infrastructure and how to fix it. But this system hasn’t prioritized infrastructure maintenance for decades. Why would it start now? If big business doesn’t need it and quickly, then it won’t be a priority for the politicians who do their bidding.