Can Trump Make U.S. Cities Great Again?

by Gary Mason,
from The Globe & Mail,

When Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech ... there was only one of his many campaign promises he chose to highlight: a vow to restore his crumbling nation. “We are going to … rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” the president-elect said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.” In recent years, there has been a dawning realization that trillions of dollars are needed to restore and replace everything from dilapidated overpasses to decaying sewer systems – with no immediate financial means to meet those demands.

Mr. Trump’s nearly $1-trillion (U.S.) plan largely relies on the private sector to fund. Whether corporations take the president-elect up on the tax credits and other enticements he is offering (repatriation holidays for companies currently parking profits overseas) in exchange for their financial help, we don’t know. His plan is more ambitious, dollar-wise, than the one Hillary Clinton proposed – nearly twice so. And, consequently, it is closer to the projections of what it will cost to tackle a problem threatening to cripple the U.S. economy – and yet a large funding gap would remain. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which looks at the state of America’s infrastructure in a report every four years, said in 2013 that the estimated investment needed to restore the highways, bridges and tunnels Mr. Trump talked about was $3.4-trillion by 2020. The society described the condition of much of that infrastructure as dangerous, with the potential to create havoc for cities and towns across the country unless addressed soon. Perhaps nowhere is this problem more apparent than here, in California, the most populous state. On sheer size alone, it represents a massive challenge to Mr. Trump’s infrastructure pledge. Like it has in much of the country, capital investment in California has plummeted over the past five-plus decades. According to an analysis done by the ASCE, the state spent 20 cents of every tax dollar on infrastructure in the 1950s and ’60s. By the 1980s, that had dropped to five cents. Current estimates put infrastructure investment at a penny of every dollar. “It’s a real crisis,” says Yaz Emrani, president of the ASCE’s Los Angeles chapter and a civil and environmental engineering consultant. “And California’s problems are a microcosm of the country’s problems as a whole.”

The impact of the state’s decision to ignore the warnings it has been receiving for years is starting to be felt. In July, a 1.5-metre-wide sewer pipe collapsed, spilling more than 9,000 cubic metres of untreated waste into the Los Angeles River, forcing the closing of beaches. Last year, the Tex Wash Bridge near Desert Center collapsed amid heavy rains. The nearly 50-year-old crossing was found to be structurally unsound. The year before that, a water main two metres in diameter gave way, flooding Pauley Pavilion on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.

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