How does infrastructure in the U.S. compare to that of the rest of the world? It depends on who you ask.
On the last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, U.S. infrastructure scored a D+. This year’s report urged the government and private sector to increase spending by US$2 trillion within the next 10 years, in order to improve not only the physical infrastructure, but the country’s economy overall.
Meanwhile, the country’s international rank in overall infrastructure quality jumped from 25th to 12th place out of 138 countries, according to the World Economic Forum.
The quality of infrastructure systems can be measured in different ways – including efficiency, safety and how much money is being invested. As a researcher in risk and resilience of infrastructure systems, I know that infrastructure assessment is far too complex to boil down into one metric. For instance, while the U.S. ranks second in road infrastructure spending, it falls in the 60th place for road safety, due to the high rate of deaths from road traffic.
But by many measures, the U.S. falls short of the rest of the world. Two of these characteristics are key to our infrastructure’s future: resilience and sustainability. A new class of solutions is emerging that, with the right funding, can help address these deficiencies.
Resilient infrastructures are able to effectively respond to and recover from disruptive events. The U.S. is still in the top 25 percent of countries with the most resilient infrastructure systems. But it falls behind many other developed countries because the country’s infrastructure is aging and increasingly vulnerable to disruptive events.
For example, the nation’s inland waterway infrastructure has not been updated since it was first built in the 1950s. As a result, 70 percent of the 90,580 dams in the U.S. will be over 50 years old by 2025, which is beyond the average lifespan of dams.
In addition, since the 1980s, weather-related power outages in the U.S. have become as much as 10 times more frequent.
Several European countries – such as Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Finland – are ahead of the U.S. in the FM Global Resilience Index, a data-driven indicator of a country’s ability to respond to and recover from disruptive events. Though these countries are exposed to natural hazards and cyber risks, their infrastructure’s stability and overall high standards allow them to effectively survive disruptive events.