The high cost of failing infrastructure

The high cost of failing infrastructure
Jim Varnum's flooded house.

From the USW 

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Residents of Midland, Mich., will spend months rebuilding their homes and their lives after the failure of two dams triggered massive flooding along the Tittabawassee River in May.

The tragedy is a grim reminder of America’s pressing need to upgrade infrastructure like the aging Edenville Dam, which broke during a heavy storm and unleashed a torrent of water that caused a second impoundment to fail as well.

The flooding damaged or destroyed more than 2,500 buildings. The cleanup will cost an estimated $200 million—money that would have better spent upgrading Michigan’s dams and averting disaster.

USW Local 12075, which represents about 850 workers at the Dow-DuPont-Corteva-Trinseo-Sk Saran complex in Midland, has numerous members affected by the flooding. While some only had to mop up water in their basements others experienced major damage or even lost their homes.

“We definitely need to put money into infrastructure because things are falling apart,” lamented Local 12075 Vice President Jim Varnum, who works at DuPont.

Varnum and his family are living in a camper while they repair their home. They already installed the floors, drywall and insulation. Now, they’re ordering doors, kitchen cabinets, beds and other furniture.

Federal regulators long complained that Boyce Hydro Power LLC, owner of both dams, refused to make critically needed improvements to the Edenville structure.

But many other dams across the country also are aging, in poor condition and at risk of collapsing.

“Without the government putting emphasis on fixing our infrastructure—roads, dams, bridges, water system, etc.—we’re going to see more disasters like what happened to Midland and the surrounding area,” Varnum said.

Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work