Tom Madison is executive director of the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy.
America’s infrastructure is in crisis. Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) graded the health of our nation’s infrastructure with a D+. The ASCE report card calls for more than $4.5 trillion in investment over the next decade to address the challenges facing our roads, bridges, airports, railways, ports, pipelines, levees, dams, energy grid, and other systems that underpin our economy and quality of life.
If we’re serious about returning American infrastructure to its rightful place as a source of pride and leadership, we will need better, faster access to the raw materials it takes to sustain and improve our systems.
Rebuilding our aging, complex infrastructure assets and preparing them to meet growing demand will take a tremendous volume and variety of raw materials. These structures and systems are built with steel, concrete and numerous other metals. Take the nearly completed Tappan Zee Bridge replacement north of New York City, a $3.9 billion project I helped lead as executive director of the New York State Thruway Authority.
Building this new bridge requires at least 100,000 tons (or 220 million pounds of U.S. steel); the Empire State Building used 57,000 tons. During the past six decades, construction of our National Highway System has required more than 6 billion tons of steel.
Replacing and repairing our infrastructure provides an extraordinary opportunity to invest in and grow our economy, but it will be a missed opportunity if we are forced to rely on imported iron ore, aluminum, or copper from China to get the job done.