United States infrastructure is a necessary conversation to be hard in modern politics. Addressing old roads, ancient bridges, and out-of-date electric grids just a few ways that the government could improve the lives of everyday Americans, and push the country further into the twenty-first century.

Roads are Highly Important

The roads that we drive on are one of the most important factors of American infrastructure. The Internet and bridges are important, but Americans who can’t get to the places they need to be are sitting ducks in the grand scheme of the American economy.

Source: Wikimedia/Frankie Fouganthin

Because they’re so common, though, roads often don’t come up in the conversation about facets of American infrastructure that need to be improved. You’re more likely to hear about railroads and bridges over roads, and while those are important, they’re not more important than roads.

But Highly Overlooked

Unfortunately, roads being overlooked and dismissed in terms of their importance has led to them being significantly neglected in terms of repair and maintenance. This is concerning for Americans, due to the fact that well-maintained roads are safer roads.

Source: Wikimedia/Infrogmation of New Orleans

Additionally, roads that need repairs are costly to the American public. In 2020, federal, state, and local governments spent a combined $308 billion on highways and roads, which is money that is, of course, billed to the taxpayers.

Damaged Roads Are Only Getting Worse

Unfortunately for Americans, damaged roads are a problem that only appears to be getting worse. A recent report by Forbes detailed how our roads are, unfortunately, experiencing conditions that are perfect for degradation.

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The report listed weather and traffic patterns as the two key factors that lead to bumpy rides when Americans have to take to the streets. In particular, rain, snow, and ice freeze-thaw patterns are causing significant weakening in the structure of roads, particularly in the northern states.

Weather With an Insidious Effect

“Potholes, for example, are typically the result of prolonged water infiltration through the surface, which weakens the underlying layers,” Laurie Winkless wrote for Forbes. She added that excessively soggy ground soil can lead to sagging, or fully collapsed roads.

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Snow and ice can have a particularly insidious effect on roads. Water permeates the asphalt during freeze-thaw cycles, which can weaken the structure of the road itself. Water expands when it freezes, and repeated cycles of expansion and contraction of the asphalt can ultimately lead to cracking and deterioration that requires repair.

Extreme Weather Occurrences Increasing

Winter weather and less-than-sunny weather are both a part of life, but extreme weather has become a significant problem for American infrastructure. The occurrences of massive weather events such as atmospheric rivers, wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves have been increasing, bringing impressive damage along with them.

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Air Force Photo By/Josh Plueger

These extreme weather events are pushed along by global climate change, which is significantly impacted by the burning of dirty energy and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In a blog post, journalist and climate tech investor Molly Wood described the overheating of our planet as “basically steroids for weather.”

Record Numbers of Disasters

Last year, the United States saw a record number of billion-dollar disasters. That number is impressive and terrifying, and doesn’t even take into account the damage that might not yet be apparent, at least until some more time has passed.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, flooding, extreme snow events, and high temperatures all shorten the lifespan of our roadways. Further, certain weather conditions make it unsafe for workers to go forward and complete the necessary repairs.

Heavy Driving Is Important, Too

Cold weather and extreme weather events are not the only factors that impact the structural integrity of American roads, though. Heavy vehicles driving on roads that were not intended for them are also exacerbating the issue.

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Freight-carrying trucks have become more numerous every year in New Zealand, according to Forbes. The report pointed out that engineers typically assess that “roads in a low-traffic [area] or residential neighborhoods can be made with thinner and less expensive road-base materials.” This means that roads are more likely to be damaged by everyday usage of heavyweight trucks, leading to more repairs needed.

Freight Transportation Has Heavy Impacts

In the United States, the American Trucking Association projects that the freight sector is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, as well. This projected growth will put even more stress on already overburdened roads, leading to greater daily damage that will place a significant financial burden on taxpayers.

Source: Wikimedia/Dwight Burdette

Freight transportation has greater impacts beyond the weight of trucks on roads, though. Freight transportation accounts for nearly 30% of carbon pollution from transportation, as most large trucks run on diesel, which is a significant type of dirty fuel.

Adding Electric Semis

Companies and the government have started taking steps towards addressing these problems, though. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have both begun adding electric semis to their fleets, in efforts to cut down on harmful pollution which has been linked to extreme weather and poor air quality.

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Electric vehicles have also become more popular with individual consumers. A whopping 1.2 million new electric vehicles were manufactured and sold in America in 2023, making up a total 7.6% of the new car market.

Research into Electric Cars

Research is currently being done into electric vehicles with major companies such as Tesla, with the intent of creating lighter electric vehicle batteries, as well as more sustainable roads. Some research into more sustainable roads includes adding materials to concrete to allow them to melt snow and ice during winter weather.

Source: Wikimedia/Phillip Pessar

Preventing the multiple freeze-thaw cycles of winter would go a long way towards preserving American roads and keeping them in better shape to drive on, for longer. While the research into self-warming concrete is still in the early stages, it is a promising avenue of research for environmentalists.

Investments in Green Energy

Additionally, the Biden administration has been advocating for significant investments not only into green energy, but specifically into electric vehicles. Biden campaigned on investing in the future of America with infrastructure and business, and has thus far kept many of the campaign promises that he made.

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Regarding electric vehicles, the administration has made an ambitious goal for the sale of electric vehicles and carbon emissions in the United States. By 2030, Biden projected that half of all new sales would be electric, and therefore zero emission. It’s an ambitious target that the administration has made remarkable steps towards, though it isn’t on track quite yet.

Biking is Better Than Cars

And, while it is true that electric vehicles are better for roads and the environment due to weight and emissions reduction, it is also true that walking and bikes are still better for the environment than any type of vehicle whatsoever.

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The Forbes report points out that billions of bicycles would need to travel on a road to create the same level of stress as approximately one freight truck, 1,582 cars. While it’s not realistic to expect all Americans to suddenly give up their cars, moving towards a future where cars are cleaner and Americans are healthier is the ultimate goal.

A More Responsible Future

Taking steps towards a more environmentally responsible future is a multi-faceted problem, one that both individual citizens and government agencies will need to work together towards. Addressing the many problems that afflict American roadways is one small part of the problem, but an important one.

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Awareness is the first step towards making the correct choices regarding the environment, our cars, and our infrastructure. It is the responsibility of the American public to expect more from politicians regarding infrastructure discussions, and only with proper education can we know exactly what steps need to be taken, and how.