Roads, bridges and other infrastructure in the U.S. are steadily growing older and weaker. Given low interest rates and elevated unemployment, this is an ideal moment to invest in fixing them.
Our structures are aging as fast as we are. From 2000 to 2010, the median human age in the U.S. rose by almost two years, from 35.3 to 37.2, and the average age of nonresidential corporate fixed assets increased by about the same amount. Fixed assets as a whole aged from an average of 20.7 years to 22.1.
Does age matter? Unfortunately, with infrastructure it does.
A December 2010 report from the Department of Homeland Security underscores the threat. "Age," it says, "often acts together with and may reinforce the effect of other factors such as design, maintenance, and operation in increasing the vulnerability of infrastructure."
Consider the situation in New York State, where about 10 percent of the roughly 22,000 bridges were built before 1930. More than 10 percent of these old bridges have a superstructure rating of poor or worse, compared with less than 5 percent of the bridges built during the past four decades.
As my former colleague Larry Summers has written, "No one who travels from the United States abroad can doubt that we have an enormous infrastructure deficit. Surely even leaving aside any possible stimulus benefits, current economic conditions make this the ideal time for renewing the nation's infrastructure."
So what to do?