My family owns a cottage along Lake Erie, about 500 feet across the New York state line from Pennsylvania. With that proximity, we travel frequently between the states. We always know instantly when we leave the State of Independence and roll into the Empire State. The roads tell us. Not by a welcoming sign, but by a very noticeable improvement in the quality of Route 5.
That's not to say that New York roads are pristine—far from it. The state can claim its share of deteriorating pavement. But it does show the disparity among our nation's roads. The recent winter has been especially hard on road surfaces. For those of us who live in the Northeast, the arrival of spring has also signaled the beginning of pothole-patching season.
And patching is what we've been doing for the better part of three decades. Patching our roads, our bridges, our entire transportation infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that our nation is spending $125 billion per year less than what's needed just to maintain our existing infrastructure. That's just maintaining. Not expanding. Not improving.
Our infrastructure is sorely in need of more than a patch. According to a White House report issued last July, congestion and poor infrastructure drive up freight costs for U.S. businesses by $27 billion a year. The report further stated that 65 percent of U.S. roads are rated as being in less than good condition, and one in four of the nation's 600,000 bridges either needs repairs or can no longer handle the stress of its current traffic load.
I live in Pittsburgh. To get into the city from my home, I must drive under the Greenfield Bridge, the poster child for crumbling infrastructure. Built in 1921, this concrete span arches over the Parkway East, the main highway serving the eastern suburbs. In 1990, the bridge started crumbling. Safety nets were slung underneath it to keep falling chunks from hitting any of the 100,000 cars that use the parkway daily. But that was not enough. In 2003, another bridge was built below the Greenfield Bridge simply to catch any debris the nets couldn't handle. That temporary span, which cost $652,000 then, remains in place. We were told it was cheaper than a new bridge. The good news is that the Greenfield Bridge is finally scheduled for demolition this fall.
But it does remind us of where we are and where we should be. In his State of the Union message in 1955, President Eisenhower, the father of our interstate highway system, said, "A modern, efficient highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security."
It's too bad we did not carry through with his vision.