Lots of people say that the US infrastructure is crumbling. In my area (PA) the local townships handle this, which got me wondering:

  • What are people referring to when they say "the infrastructure is crumbling"?

  • When is infrastructure a local concern vs. a federal concern ? Do they relate to each other ?

  • I'm also lacking international context and am perhaps oblivious to what a "modern or sensible infrastructure" means? I've been on Trenitalia in Italy where the train reached very fast speeds and heard of the Maglev train in Japan. I think my naiveté is rooted in kilometers/hour vs miles/hour and I am ignorant of the relative benefit.

  • 3
    Infrastructure is more than just roads and bridges. It includes things like water supply & sewage treatment, dams (remember the near-disaster at Oroville this spring?), the electric grid, and more.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 29, 2017 at 18:28
  • Surely Flint's water infrastructure has been in perfect condition in the past couple of years. /s Aug 29, 2017 at 18:57
  • 1
    @DenisdeBernardy The problem with Flint actually wasn't related to the infrastructure, they just switched to the tainted water because it was cheaper.
    – Braydon
    Aug 29, 2017 at 21:47

3 Answers 3


In most Countries the national government has larger control in rail ways and ports. In the US when we talk about infrastructure we are talking mostly about roads and bridges.

Infrastructure is ran mostly by the state and local government in the US. The only thing that comes from the federal government currently is funding.

When people say our infrastructure is crumbling it is literal. Bridges and roads are in disrepair. Last Week Tonight Night did a segment on how bad it has gotten. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpzvaqypav8


Your question requires questions in response, though they'll be mostly rhetorical.

Where do you get your food? Where do the stores that stock your food get their inventory?

Where do you buy gas?

The government has a strong economic interest in maintaining an infrastructure that is capable of supporting the movement of goods, services, and people, across the vast spread of the US. Doing so supports the spread of manufacturing and agriculture centers across the expanse, rather than several small local centers in each region. Maximizing the use and efficiency of available resources nationally releases more local resources with in that nation to be redirected towards other endeavors.

TLDR: An strong infrastructure supports industrial specialization, freeing up local resources for the creation of more wealth.


Do you like traffic?

That is strictly an infrastructure issue. It has local, state and federal components.

Roads are mostly built and maintained by local authorities using local money. Highways are built and maintained by states with significant federal spending.

Literally crumbling. There are many projects like bridges that are passed their designed lifespan without plans to replace them. Bridges have collapsed due to structural problems noted in inspections but a lack of budget left the necessary repairs undone.

There seems to be a limit to the naive solution of building more roads as population grows in cities. Traffic gets worse faster than new roads can be built. It is faster to send things by bike than car in some cites because of traffic considerations. Some of the towns and smaller cities in my region have plans to completely rebuild themselves to try to avoid becoming anything like LA.

This means that different infrastructure choice need to be explored. Eastern Chinese cities had massive bike infrastructure before being opened to the West, Europe has many pedestrian friendly city centers and commuter trains.

Any change of infrastructure will require large investments. It is hoped that costs would be recouped in economic growth and environmental and health gains.

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