Home Tech American infrastructure is broken. Here’s an $830 million plan to fix it

American infrastructure is broken. Here’s an $830 million plan to fix it

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 American infrastructure is broken. Here's an $830 million plan to fix it

There’s one word that will infuriate any American, regardless of political leaning: infrastructure. Potholed roads, creaky bridges, and half-functioning public transportation bring us together nationwide like few others can. And that was before coastal flooding, extreme heat and supercharged wildfires fueled by climate change made things even worse.

American infrastructure was designed for the climate we enjoyed 50, 75, and even 100 years ago. Much of it simply does not hold up, endangering lives and breaking supply chains. To bring all those roads, railroads, bridges and entire cities into the modern era, the Biden-Harris administration last week Announced nearly $830 million in grants through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021. The Long list of projects includes improved evacuation routes in Alaska, a new bridge in Montana, restored wetlands in Pennsylvania and plenty of modernizations in between.

“We know that if we want to build infrastructure that will last the next 50 or 100 years, it has to look different than the last 50 or 100 years,” says US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

WIRED sat down with Buttigieg to talk about the bipartisan appeal of infrastructure, using nature instead of fighting it, and the irresistible triple reward of getting people out of cars and onto buses and trains. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Matt Simon: The United States is a very diverse place climatically. We have all these deserts and extreme heat, coastlines and rising sea levels, and increasingly extreme precipitation. How is this new funding used to manage all of that?

Secretary Buttigieg: While every part of the country is different, every part of the country sees transportation systems affected by weather and other threats. They can be forest fires, floods, rising sea levels, landslides, droughts or even earthquakes. All of these things can affect the durability of our transportation systems. And many of these things are becoming more extreme.

One of the most contradictory consequences of climate change is increased precipitation. Much of this funding goes toward modernizing infrastructure to adapt to such flooding. What are the options?

In Cincinnati, for example, we are shoring up retaining walls and installing sensors on hills to anticipate a problem where a hill slide, caused by heavy rain, would impact a road. In West Memphis, we are investing in natural infrastructure. The interesting thing about that case is that it’s not really about the road itself: we are investing in the wetlands around the road to reduce the likelihood of flooding. That’s part of how we protect the supply chains that run along I-55 and I-40.

And then sometimes you’re faced with a double whammy. In Colorado, for example, I-70 was affected by a combination of fires and flooding. A wildfire will occur, undermining the trees and root structures that hold the soil together, and will be followed by flooding. And then it will be more likely to hit a landslide, which affected I-70 for an extended period a few years ago. So we’re seeing that a lot, something that as a former mayor I think about a lot, which is just fighting water in the wrong places. It’s certainly a big part of what we have to deal with in our transportation systems.

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