It’s been 30 years—and six presidents—since the US Congress first commissioned a report card on the condition of the country’s infrastructure. That 1988 report, in which the United States scored a ho-hum C, could have been a turning point for the massive infrastructure spending the nation so clearly needed.
But instead of heading straight to the dean’s list, the United States has slipped further, according the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). From failing wastewater plants to overcrowded and insufficient public transit, the country’s D+ grade is more than just a national embarrassment—it represents a declining standard of living and poses a serious threat to the United States’ ability to compete in the global economy.
And it’s not just the United States that needs to do some investing in infrastructure. By some estimates, the world should be spending close to $4 trillion per year through 2035 to address global warming, population pressure, and economic needs. From South America to a rising China, the arduous (and expensive) process of revamping and expanding infrastructure has begun. Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world.
If the United States needs a roadmap, it could do worse than copying the United Kingdom. As Jim Lynch, vice president of the BIM Product Line Group at Autodesk, points out, “Using the BIM process, between 2009 and 2015, the policy saved UK taxpayers 15 to 20 percent in construction costs, nearly ￡900 million, or the equivalent of just north of $1 billion US dollars.” So when the United States finally passes a large-scale infrastructure bill, lawmakers would do well to spend those tax dollars responsibly, requiring projects to use BIM and current technology to save money and time.
But is it enough? The ASCE says that the United States should spend twice that amount over the next decade and other estimates suggest spending roughly $12 trillion over the next 17 years. Can the United States summon the political will to pass major legislation—and keep the eye on the ball for years to come—during one of the most divisive periods in its history?
Although the federal government wrangles over a large-scale infrastructure bill, that doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. From San Francisco’s mammoth rail/bus station being built downtown—called by some the “Grand Central Station of the West”—to new streetcars and light rail in midsize cities such as El Paso, Texas, and Denver, projects that make it easier to get around without a car will ameliorate gridlock and help urban centers reduce emissions that contribute to global warming.
Meanwhile, the United States isn’t the only place in dire need of infrastructure upgrades: the entire planet needs to rethink infrastructure to meet the challenges posed by global warming and resource scarcity. According to Consultancy UK, “Around $3.7 trillion in investment will be required, per year, to meet the expected need between 2017 and 2035—with aggregated total investment at almost $70 trillion.” To put that massive amount in perspective, the United States’ four-year Marshall Plan (to rebuild Europe after World War II) would equal just $140 billion in today’s currency.
Spanning three countries—Brazil on the Atlantic coast, landlocked Bolivia, and Peru on the Pacific Ocean—the Central Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor would cut transportation time for goods between São Paolo and Beijing and provide an alternative to the Panama Canal. The 3,755-kilometer (2,333-mile) track, built with expertise from Switzerland and Germany’s railway firms, is slated to open in 2025 and will possibly expand to include connections from Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.