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Who will spend the $3.6tn to fix America?

Infrastructure is the one thing the Presidential candidates agree on - except for that wall. Everything needs fixing, from bridges to airports.

If you thought the plumber’s quote for your new bathroom was a little on the steep side spare a thought for the US government, which has been quoted $3.6tn to get its house in order.

That’s what the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it will cost to fix America’s ageing infrastructure and there’s no hope of finding a cheaper quote from somewhere else.


When I visit the US I am sometimes struck by how things look a bit, well, frayed around the edges. Yet it’s going to need a lot more than a lick of paint. Everyone knows it, and that includes the Presidential candidates on this month’s cover. In fact, you could say that the one and only concrete thing they do seem to agree on is... concrete.


“I don’t have to tell you what a sorry state we’re in,” said Hillary Clinton. “Our roads and bridges are potholed and crumbling. Families endure blackouts because our electric grid fails in extreme weather. Beneath our cities our pipeline infrastructure, our water, our sewer, you name it, is up to a century or more old. Our airports are a mess. Our ports need improvement. Our rail systems do as well.” She promises “the biggest investment in American infrastructure in decades.”


Donald Trump agrees and has promised to double whatever Clinton pledges. “You’re really going to need more than [Clinton’s plan],” he said, adding: “We have to fix our infrastructure but we have to fix it without cost overruns. “Nobody can build better than I can. Nobody knows construction better.”


The debate has moved on from what needs doing to who can achieve it and how, as our Washington correspondent Paul Dempsey investigates.


Then there’s Trump’s wall. That’s not included in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ $3.6tn, as it’s a Trump-only initiative, and he insists Mexico will be paying. I find it a xenophobic and divisive policy, but Trump seems serious about it so we look at what it would take to build such a wall in engineering and financial terms, and we hear about more realistic, cost-effective ways of building secure barriers between countries. Unfortunately, it feels like that is the way the world is going right now.


Anyway, cheer up! It’s not all doom and gloom. The Paris agreement on climate change to limit average global temperature rises to 2°C has now been ratified by enough governments to come into force on 4 November – much earlier than anyone had expected. Now comes the hard part. America’s infrastructure investment is one that many other countries will face in the coming decades. The world is expected to invest $90tn on infrastructure in the next 15 years, according to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and that needs to shift urgently to more low-carbon, energy-efficient projects if we are to meet that ambitious 2°C target. That will take the world’s best engineering and science as well as political and financial commitment. We’ll look at what we all need to do to stay under that 2°C limit in our next issue in November.

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