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Intensive Care: Our Nation’s Infrastructure Gaps Are Killing Us


An Amtrak Northeast regional train derailed near Philadelphia on May 12, killing eight and injuring dozens of others.  There are indications that the train was traveling over 100 miles an hour in an area with curved tracks and a speed limit of 50 mph.

It turns out that the Port Richmond area where the accident occurred does not yet have a safety system called Positive Train Control.  One of its features is to automatically reduce the speed of a train if it is going too fast. That system was supposed to be installed throughout the Northeast corridor by 2015 but has fallen behind schedule.  Still, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to slash $260 million from Amtrak’s budget the day after the crash.

In 2007 people watched in horror as the crumbling I-35 bridge broke into three pieces during rush hour in Minnesota.  Thirteen people were killed, 145 were injured and dozens of cars plunged into the river.  A school bus full of children was evacuated, even as the bus perched precariously on a slab of the bridge.

It is unimaginable that Americans would want to live in a country where the potential infrastructure failures keep growing.  And yet, investing in infrastructure gets no traction in Congress.  The nation’s highways, once a source of pride, have been getting by with six-month appropriations and no long-term plan to put them on a path for sustainable funding.

ICMA joined with five other national associations on May 12 to hold a briefing on Capitol Hill, pressing Congress to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and to pass a multi-year reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

It is sobering, indeed, that we have reached the point where Brazil is building infrastructure faster than the United States.  What country can have a viable economy, let alone deal with its health and safety issues, if it does not invest in its future?

It’s time to get the job done. 

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