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May 24, 2013 6:06 PM The Country Is Falling to Bits, Maybe Someone Should Do Something

By Devin Castles

Even though the nation’s capital enjoys a rich tax base and a comparatively booming job market, it still hasn’t avoided the aging infrastructure woes plaguing much of the country. On Tuesday, a piece of concrete fell and broke through a sewer line, halting traffic, and creating a 15-foot-deep sinkhole in downtown DC at 14th and F streets NW, just blocks away from the White House. While some lanes on 14th St have since been reopened, repairs (and traffic delays) are expected to drag on through the weekend.

DC journos eager to make snarky remarks about the capital literally collapsing in on itself had to be careful not to confuse it with territory from 2 months ago, when another sinkhole was discovered in the city. So why does this keep happening? A fortuitous episode from NPR’s Science Friday last year might have some answers. The average water main in DC is 78 years old, and some pipes were installed before the Civil War. Adding to the problem, until 3 years ago, the city was replacing old pipes at a rate of just one third of a percent a year (meaning the oldest pipes could last for 300 years).

Accidents like this remind us of the importance of using current events to reinforce our political beliefs maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure. Failure to do so can lead not just to leaky pipes and sinkholes, but collapsed bridges, crumbling roads, and chronic flight delays. Which is why it might be a good time to revisit Kevin Drum’s modest plan for infrastructure improvement.

Devin Castles is an intern at the Washington Monthly.