Last year on August 1, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour. Thirteen people died and more than 100 were wounded. A school bus carrying 52 children teetered on the brink but did not fall.
This bridge is not alone. Our nation’s infrastructure is deteriorating, dying of old age and neglect.
Bridges and roads. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that nearly 25 percent of bridges in the U.S.—over 152,000 bridges—are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete .” Heavier vehicles, like school buses and delivery trucks, are forced to take lengthy detours for safer bridges. Nearly one in four miles of urban interstate is in “poor” or “mediocre”  condition.
Levees and waterways. Earlier this year, thousands of homes and millions of acres of crops were destroyed after heavy rains overwhelmed obsolete levees along the Mississippi River. In 2007, the American Society of Civil Engineers found more than 150 levees to be at high risk of failing due to poor maintenance. Over a quarter of the dams overseen by the Corps of Engineers have exceeded the lifespan  for which they were designed and need major repairs to ensure their safety.
Water and steam. A steam pipe explosion in Manhattan last year launched a tow truck 12 feet in the air, killing one person and injuring dozens more. The blast opened a 40-foot-diameter crater and spread toxic asbestos, closing off 40 square blocks for five days. Almost every state—from California, Hawaii, and New York to Alaska and North Carolina—has reported record breakdowns in water infrastructure. In the words of one expert, “an epidemic of breaking pipes is causing unprecedented havoc .”
These are just illustrations of the deadly danger of letting our infrastructure go unmaintained. America’s electric power grid, dams, water treatment plants, airports, and railways are all in dire need of repairs and improvements.
The solution is obvious. Repair and rebuild.  Rebuilding our infrastructure provides jobs—good jobs that can never be outsourced—and an economic shot in the arm that we desperately need. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion in federal highway investment creates 47,500 new jobs  and generates more than $2 billion in economic activity.
The “greatest generation” built the Interstate Highway System and laid the groundwork for decades of economic expansion. Now it’s our turn to rebuild the highways and add high-speed rail to boot. We’ll be faster, safer and more efficient. Yes, it will cost money, and yes, we’re running deficits. But this is no time to run scared. These are long-term investments and they will pay off over time.
Don’t fall for the “pay as you go” trap or fear the “tax and spend” label. Real people are smarter than that. A new poll by Time Magazine and the Rockefeller Foundation finds 83 percent of the public supports “increasing government spending on things like public works projects to help create jobs .” Support is at 83 percent among the baby-boom generation who built the interstates, and a surprising 90 percent among the young generation Y who are watching them fall apart.
Let’s invest now to turn the economy around.