We Must Repaint Our Nation's Crumbling InfrastructureCommentary • patriotism • Opinion • ISSUE 34•14 • Nov 4, 1998 By Duane Pleis Duane Pleis As we hurtle toward the next millennium, we should take a moment to pause and judiciously examine the state of our country. The years ahead will no doubt bring wondrous advances in computers, HDTV, electric automobiles, and the like. But none of this will matter if we do not address the most pressing problem facing us today–the sorry state of our nation's physical infrastructure. This great system, which encompasses America's transportation, electric-power and water-supply networks, has been operating beyond its design capacities for years. And, boy, does it ever look it. If we are to restore America's infrastructure to its pristine, original state, we must have it thoroughly and expertly repainted. Perhaps a nice coat of Glidden Latex Exterior in a bright yellow. That would really help spruce up America's infrastructure. Or maybe a royal blue Mautz Satin Touch with enamel finish. That might give the infrastructure a classy look. But whatever brand and color we choose, we must do it soon, for we are at a crisis point. Take the most visible symbols of our nation's civil-engineering might: our bridges. The San Francisco Bay Bridge, which opened in 1936, is a marvel of engineering and human endeavor. Its construction required 200,000 tons of steel, one million cubic yards of concrete, 71,000 miles of 28-inch diameter cable, 55 million man-hours and 3.2 million gallons of titanium-oxide-based marine paint. However, nearly 100 million cars pass over this great bridge each year, many more than its architects intended, subjecting the structure to severe impact stress and dislodging large flakes of paint. Atmospheric pollution has also taken its toll, fading and dirtying the bridge's once-gleaming facade. In short, the mighty Bay Bridge has become dangerously shabby-looking. The same is true of our interstate highway system. When the highway system was born in the 1950s with the signing of the Interstate Highway Act, the Department of Transportation intended the roads to be regraded and resurfaced every 8 to 12 years. But due to budgetary constraints, maintenance schedules were gradually slashed while traffic volume and average vehicle weight–and, consequently, blemish-inducing accidents–increased. As a result, the average 10-mile section of American interstate roadbed now loses 5 to 7 percent of its total surface to vehicular erosion each year. This translates to a corresponding loss of 9 to 11 percent of its structural strength–and nearly 65 percent of its painted surface! There are freeway interchanges in the Snow Belt where the central yellow passing-zone indicator lines are peeling for hundreds of feet, while the white safety line at the road's edge has crumbled or been burned away altogether. This is not the clean, crisp look our civil engineers envisioned when these once-proud, once-safe roads were designed. Everywhere we look, we see that our infrastructure has fallen victim to neglect. America's highways, bridges, dams, railroads and seaports are so dilapidated that we are no longer surprised when they collapse or explode. This sorry state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. We must paint and paint and paint until our nation's infrastructure looks as shiny and attractive as it did in the long-gone days when it was new! Like every grand proposal, this project has its naysayers. They claim that the sort of dedicated, high-caliber civil engineers who designed these systems, as well as the sort of skilled craftsmen who built them, no longer exist in America. They say the men we have today may not be skilled enough to repaint them. They say we don't have enough brushes. But they also say we cannot afford to repaint–and I say we cannot afford not to! If we were to divert all the money, time and effort we now spend on patchwork repairs that have no hope of shoring up our doomed infrastructure and reinvest that money in high-quality Sherwin-Williams paint, we would have a shot at saving our roads, bridges and waterways from collapsing into a state of ugliness. It will be grueling work, but it must be done if our infrastructure is to have any hope of looking nice for future generations. Our infrastructure is a proud symbol of what made America the greatest nation on Earth. We must honor those bygone times by continuing to repaint this symbol, by keeping it looking new despite the ravages of time, by treating America's infrastructure as if it were still young, strong and capable. To do otherwise would be unseemly–and un-American. I thank you for your time.