Friday, November 6, 2015


The Works Progress Administration was (as summarized by Indiana University)

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a relief measure established in 1935 by executive order as the Works Progress Administration, and was redesigned in 1939 when it was transferred to the Federal Works Agency. Headed by Harry L. Hopkins and supplied with an initial congressional appropriation of $4,880,000,000, it offered work to the unemployed on an unprecedented scale by spending money on a wide variety of programs, including highways and building construction, slum clearance, reforestation, and rural rehabilitation. So gigantic an undertaking was inevitably attended by confusion, waste, and political favoritism, yet the 'pump-priming' effect stimulated private business during the depression years and inaugurated reforms that states had been unable to subsidize.

Particularly novel were the special programs. The Federal Writers' Project (more information available from Indiana State University's library) prepared state and regional guide books, organized archives, indexed newspapers, and conducted useful sociological and historical investigations. The Federal Arts Project gave unemployed artists the opportunity to decorate hundreds of post offices, schools, and other public buildings with murals, canvases, and sculptures; musicians organized symphony orchestras and community singing.   The Federal Theatre Project experimented with untried modes, and scores of stock companies toured the country with repertories of old and new plays, thus bringing drama to communities where it had been known only through the radio.

By March, 1936, the WPA rolls had reached a total of more than 3,400,000 persons; after initial cuts in June 1939, it averaged 2,300,000 monthly; and by June 30, 1943, when it was officially terminated, the WPA had employed more than 8,500,000 different persons on 1,410,000 individual projects, and had spent about $11 billion. During its 8-year history, the WPA built 651,087 miles of highways, roads, and streets; and constructed, repaired, or improved 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 airport landing fields.

So not only it build infrastructure it created many state records, and contributed to the cultural education and entertainment in America.

Today we can't get even a federal funding bill that will fund our desperately needed upgrades to improve our roads, bridges and public buildings.

When Harvard complains you would think we would be in arms, but then again Harvard gave us Grover Norquist who wants to drown the baby in the bathwater or whatever metaphor/analogy/euphemism/expression  to "shrink" Government.

Today's New York Times had this article about the human cost of Infrastructure damage and how desperately we need it.

Forbes also did an article this year discussing the desperate need for upgrades and improvements to our aging public works. 

How public transportation contributes to further income inequity and in turn growing the economy (let us avoid the climate change argument at this point)

Popular Mechanics listed their top 10 list of desperately needed repairs.

And while we tout Homeland Security the reality is that we have done little to secure any major electrical grid from being hacked.

Add to this the dangerous gas lines and their lack of modernization  that could bring systemic destruction to a major city in the same way a natural disaster like Katrina or Sandy.

There's aviation. A shortage of airports runways and gates along outmoded air traffic control systems have made U.S. air travel the most congested in the world. And you thought your commute was bad?

Clean water in Flint is a problem but perhaps understanding that is has much larger effects on the eco system.  Know any sports fishermen?  But this has been a problem in many towns across America.

Is this problem new? 

Engineers See Dangers in Aging Infrastructure

AllenBrisson-Smith for The New York Times
The entire span of the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis.

Published: August 2, 2007 
A steam pipe explodes near Grand Central Terminal, a levee fails and floods New Orleans, a bridge collapses in Minneapolis.

These disasters are an indication that this country is not investing enough in keeping its vital infrastructure in good repair, engineering experts warn.
“Governments do not want to pay for maintenance because it is not sexy,” said John Ochsendorf, a structural engineer and an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
He said the bulk of the nation’s highway system was built in the 1950s and 1960s and is ageing. Referring to the collapse in Minneapolis, he said “This type of event could become more common.”
“We have a major infrastructure problem in this country,” said Maureen L. McAvey, an executive vice president with the Urban Land Institute, which recently published a report on global infrastructure issues. “The civil engineers have estimated that we have a $1.7 trillion shortfall in this country alone”
But other factors come into play, as in 1982, when a bridge inspector looked at the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich, Conn., and did not see the metal fatigue in a pin that would break nine months later, collapsing three lanes of Interstate 95 and killing three people.
In 1987, a New York Thruway bridge near Amsterdam, N.Y., also had a clean bill of health, but inspectors had never gone underwater into the Schoharie Creek to look at the bridge’s footings, where flood waters had scoured the concrete base. When the footings slipped, the bridge fell. Ten died.
“The American Society of Civil Engineers issues annual rankings of the state of the nation’s infrastructure and most of the grades are C and D,” said Michael J. O’Rourke, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
But he said it was likely the renovations the Minneapolis bridge was undergoing, rather than general decrepitude was the cause of the collapse. “It is more common for a bridge to have problems during renovations than before or after,” he said. “Two or three things have to happen simultaneously for that to happen.”
Kumares Sinha, a civil engineering professor at Purdue University, also thinks the renovation may be the key to the collapse. “You have a lot of contractors working there, and somebody probably cut something critical,” he said.
But he said the heavily used bridge was difficult to inspect and the constant pounding of traffic could have caused fatigue in the steel supports.
Nevertheless, the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last year that rated 13.1 percent of highway bridges as “structurally deficient.” It said these bridges have “deteriorated conditions of significant bridge elements and reduced load carrying capacity."
In addition, the agency reported that an additional 13.6 percent of bridges were “functionally obsolete,” meaning they do not beat current design standards.
Transportation officials know many of the nation’s 600,000 bridges are in need of repair or replacement. About one in eight has been deemed “structurally deficient,” a term that typically means a component of the bridge’s structure has been rated poor or worse, but does not necessarily warn of imminent collapse.
Most deficient bridges, which included the span of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, remain open to traffic.
Finding money to maintain infrastructure has become increasingly difficult as public officials keep pledges not to raise taxes., said Robert Dunphy, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute. “We have an impending crisis with infrastructure, but it is easy to ignore until you have a catastrophe.”
With public money for infrastructure likely to remain short, some authorities have been seeking to attract private capital by leasing toll roads, for example, said Chris Lawton, a partner in Ernst & Young, the accounting and consulting firm that collaborated with the land institute in the infrastructure report.
Highways have been leased in Chicago and Indiana, but proposals in other areas, including New Jersey, have produced uproars. “There is a lot of public skepticism about private investment in infrastructure,” Mr. Lawton said.
States improved their inspection procedures after the Mianus and thruway bridge collapses, and federal statistics show a steady decline in the percentage of deficient bridges, from 18.7 percent in 1994 to 13.1 percent in 2004.
Still, a study by the Federal Highway Administration found that visual inspections, the     primary method used by bridge inspectors, only rarely detect cracks from metal fatigue.
In the study, completed in 2001, 49 bridge inspectors from across the country examined test bridges in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Only 4 percent correctly identified a fatigue crack.
Worse, many inspectors identified nonexistent problems, suggesting that bridges sometimes undergo unnecessary repairs while some serious conditions are not detected.
Inspectors now sometimes employ tools like ultrasound, but those add time and cost to their work.
 The U.S., which used to have the finest infrastructure in the world, is now ranked 16th according to the World Economic Forum, behind Iceland, Spain, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates.

And to many of the most powerful economic and political lobbies in the country9 the real power brokers) they believe the inaction of Congress to adequately fund infrastructure products threaten the country's economic future. Big corporations like Caterpillar and GE say it's hurting their ability to compete abroad. And both have had serious reductions in stocks of late, particularly Caterpillar as China too slows down in their building mania.

To quote Ray LaHood, former Transportation Secretary, with regards to Congress: They don't want to raise the taxes. They don't really have a vision of America the way that other Congresses have had a vision of America.

I rarely hear any candidate addressing the issues of infrastructure nor education nor criminal justice in any meaningful way.  Oddly as many are being released from prisons this would be one way to find them jobs, allow them to build two things - a work resume and our roads.  The issues of not having jobs for a shrinking population of men who are able bodied this too would resolve some of those issues, even perhaps lending itself to resolving some of the chronic homelessness in America. A sort of widespread Habitat for Humanity where they build where they live.. and yes that is a joke as they do live adjacent to freeway underpasses and highways so hey why not repair them while there!

But in all seriousness this is a matter of national security and global business ready. When ports, airports, or cities are shut down we are shut down.   What one saw in New Orleans during Katrina was a failure to have a well established exit plan. The same in many other cities when disaster strikes.  Hacking is one issue as we also can see that cyber security should be added to the list.  And I see in our schools after yesterday, true evacuation plans and building designs that while even in rebuilt and modern schools an lack of coordination and communication to enable adequate security.

So until that bridge falls on you you refuse the rights of others to live and work and travel safely our roads and cities?  Wow that is self absorption to new heights. Well at least Donald Trump does want to build a wall. That is something.

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