Courtesy New Republic

Using a review of Henry Petroski's newest book, The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure (Bloomsbury USA, 2016), as a launching point, Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (Vintage, 2009), delivers a long but focused examination of all of the things that is wrong with infrastructure in the United States. It's one of the most important aspects of our culture and the history of how we became the most powerful nation on Earth (we all learned about the Erie Canal and Transcontinental Railroad with fitting reverence in elementary school), but infrastructure is one of the most easily and quickly forgotten aspect of our nation when it comes to politics and budgeting. We only think of infrastructure when it fails. And then when it does fail our response is not nearly on the scale that it needs to be to truly fix the problem, and usually causes politicians to reach into their bag of tricks and legal gymnastics to address it without really addressing the problem directly. Writes Vanderbilt: "To return to the idea that we don’t really notice infrastructure until it fails, the way this is expressed politically is that no one seems to want to pay for infrastructure until it fails. The annual replenishment of the Highway Trust Fund resembles an elaborate pyramid marketing scheme, with legislators desperately looking to tap any number of obscure funding sources, rather than actually charging the users of the roads. To wit, the federal gas tax—18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline, 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel—has not been raised since the Clinton administration, not even to keep up with inflation. In states like New Jersey, as Petroski notes, the entirety of the gas tax pays the interest on the debt of previous infrastructure projects."

Read Tom Vanderbilt's full story at the New Republic.

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