Beware of Politicians Talking About ‘Crumbling’ Infrastructure
The political class has a way with words, but often in ways that are detrimental to good public policy.
Consider the word “crumbling.” It’s a great word, evoking ruin, decay, and images of something that was once great and valuable, but now a danger even to look at. “Crumbling” is frequently used to describe the nation’s roads and bridges.
As the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards writes, this is nonsense. Our nation’s roads and bridges have been getting better and safer for years…according to the government’s own data :
What the politicians and news stories don’t tell you is that America’s bridges have been steadily improving for three decades. The Federal Highway Administration produces annual data on the condition of the nation’s more than 600,000 highway bridges. From 1992 to 2017, the agency has data on the number of bridges that are “structurally deficient.” Then the agency switched to new definitions and has data from 2009 to 2020 on the number in “poor” condition.
The chart shows both types of bridges as a percent of total U.S. bridges. The structurally deficient share fell from 21.7 percent in 1992 to 8.9 percent in 2017, while the poor share fell from 10.1 percent in 2009 to 7.3 percent in 2020. Biden’s 45,000 bridges and NBC’s 54,259 bridges are correct figures, but they miss the crucial context of these dramatic improvements.
Because touting the improvements undermines the case for pouring billions into fixing what already works.