Power line towers in Palo Alto, California.

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10 Infrastructure Projects We’d Like to See Get Off the Ground

Forget building a wall. Here are 10 sorely needed public-works projects we’d get behind, no matter who’s in the White House.

In his victory speech, Donald J. Trump vowed to “rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.” The investment is long overdue: The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its most recent national assessment, rated the country’s infrastructure as a D-plus, just above failing. The group estimates that, by 2025, the nation will need a $1.44 trillion boost over current funding levels to meet growing needs.

Since 2009, when Barack Obama doled out roughly $800 billion in a stimulus package, that money’s been hard to come by, largely blocked by partisanship. But advocates hope the election of Trump, who made his fortune in real estate, could launch a building boom. The Republican president, so used to seeing his name on gilded skyscrapers, hotels, casinos and golf courses, could cut a deal with congressional Democrats, who view public-works projects as an engine for job growth.

Assuming Trump can indeed pass a bill, we at NationSwell have a few ideas for him to consider. A big, beautiful wall’s not one of them; instead, here’s the top 10 shovel-worthy alternatives we’d like the new administration to undertake.

Advocates say smart, adaptive traffic signals will reduce congestion and vehicular fatalities. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Install smart traffic signals nationwide

In her confirmation hearing, Trump’s pick for Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, said the nation’s infrastructure is jeopardized “by a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies.” We like one that could dramatically cut congestion and traffic fatalities, even before self-driving cars hit the pavement. Smart traffic signals could communicate with cars. On one hand, they can transmit warnings about red lights or emergency vehicles to motorists, and on the receiving end, they could adapt the green-to-red cycles based on real-time conditions. The systems come relatively cheap, ranging from $500 to $3,000, and they’d save drivers tons of time and produce less smog from idling engines.

Switching to an all-satellite system from ground-based radar could help traffic controllers more efficiently direct planes. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Upgrade the air traffic control system

The FAA still monitors most air traffic through ground-based radar, a throwback to the World War II era. As part of its NextGen conversion, the regulator is trying to switch to an all-satellite system. With it, an air controller could track more planes in the sky, allow them to fly closer together and plan more direct routes, cutting down on infuriating delays on the tarmac. The next administration may try to privatize the FAA’s responsibilities, but regardless of who’s in charge, this modernization is sorely needed.

An extension of an Amtrak line would connect Washington (above) with Southern cities in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Construct a railway for the Southeast Corridor

Amtrak needs a safety update to prevent collisions and derailments (by installing the fail-safe technology known as positive train control), but the system could also use a new high-speed rail in the Southeast. Up north, the speedy Acela Express currently connects Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. There’s no reason to stop halfway. An extension could link the nation’s capital to Richmond, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. Not only would the track alleviate congestion on the I-95 freeway and at regional airports, it could prompt growth in the smaller cities of the New South, generating up to $12.8 billion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Crews work in Arizona on the lengthening the I-11 corridor. Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

Pave a new interstate highway in the Mountain West

Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over one of the biggest modern infrastructure projects: the development of a 41,000-mile interstate highway system. The hubs of 1956, however, are different from the growing population centers today. Particularly out west, there’s a need for a new freeway, designated as I-11, between Phoenix and Las Vegas, the only two neighboring cities with more than 1 million residents who aren’t linked by an interstate. Serving 9.7 million people, the $11.4 billion thoroughfare will be extended from to the Mexican border at Nogales, Ariz., all the way up past Reno, Nev., to join with I-80, between Sacramento, Calif., and Salt Lake City.

Alaska is one of a handful of states that struggle to connect its rural residents with high-speed internet access. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Bring rural areas online

While almost every city-dweller can log in to high-speed internet, only a little more than half of rural Americans have the same access. That digital divide is felt most acutely in five states — Alaska, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas and Vermont  — where at least three in four rural homeowners rely on sluggish connections. As the economy digitizes, college classes move online and telemedicine proliferates, it’s more important than ever to install fiber-optic cables or stronger wireless towers to connect with those who are geographically isolated.

According to one estimate, Miami is likely to see a 38-inch rise in the Atlantic Ocean's levels by the turn of next century. Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for IMG

Ring Miami with a seawall

America’s infrastructure must be built to last for decades, and that means anticipating the effects of climate change. Miami Beach, whose streets already regularly flood during seasonal high tides, will need to prepare for at least a 38-inch rise in the Atlantic Ocean’s level by 2100, according to one widely accepted scientific estimate. The South Florida city is already investing in a $500 million plan to raise coastal sidewalks by 2.5 feet, plus install 80 pumps to bail out water. A more ambitious seawall, backed by the feds, could keep the saltwater out of beachfront property.

An artist's rendering of what a high-speed rail car running through California's Central Valley might look like. Photo courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority

Lay track for a high-speed rail in California

Two of the West Coast’s most powerful cities, tech-wiz San Francisco and showbiz Los Angeles, are linked only by a dinky four-lane highway that cuts through the state’s rural Central Valley. A bullet train could better connect 39 million people on either end of the Golden State, in under a three-hour trip. But the rail authority in charge of the $64 billion project has struggled to find the requisite funds. An assist from the federal government would likely be worth the sticker price: the Treasury estimates the project would generate at least $130 billion in net economic benefits.

The privately owned Ambassador Bridge links Detroit to Windsor, Canada, and handles about 1.5 million border crossings annually. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Build a public bridge between Detroit and Canada

On an average day, 4,200 trucks cross from Detroit over the Canadian border to Windsor, Ontario — a total of 1.5 million trips annually. The nation’s second busiest border crossing for trailer traffic, the Ambassador Bridge is unique in another way: the blue, four-lane span over the Detroit River is the country’s only privately owned major port of entry. With no other way out of Motor City, the 88-year-old billionaire Matty Moroun, who bought the steel structure back in 1979, charges $10 for each truck and $5 for each car. Michigan’s governor and the Canadian prime minister are trying to build an alternative crossing two miles downriver through a public-private partnership, but Moroun has halted construction by buying up property in the new bridge’s path. The federal government’s backing could rev this vital trade development back into high gear.

Sensors added to new water pipes could help detect a broken pipe before an entire main breaks. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Replace pipes in aging cities

To save money on their utility bills, officials in Flint, Mich., began drawing water from a nearby river, the city’s main source of drinking water during the 1960s. But the authority didn’t treat the water to prevent corrosion of its lead pipes. Within a year and a half, the mayor declared a state of emergency. The crisis remains a cautionary tale for utility managers, especially in the 3,000 other areas, like Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where recent tests found double Flint’s levels of lead poisoning. The federal government should lead the charge in updating these precarious, subterranean waterways. In its place, the government could install sensors to detect broken pipes, allowing them to shore up a leak before an entire main breaks.

A smart power-grid grid system can increase reliability and reduce power outages. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Strengthen the power grid

Under attack by climate change as well as hackers, a hardier power grid will be vital to the ongoing operation of all other infrastructure. As the country’s network for delivering electricity, including 5,800 power plants, 3,200 utilities and 2.7 million miles of transmission lines, “the power grid is a really critical piece of infrastructure that’s both connected to and independent of the others,” explains Sue Gander, who oversees environment, energy and transportation policy at the National Governors Association. While we’re at it, the system could also be modernized to link up to more alternative energy sources, add smart metering to keep better track of homeowners’ usage and detect power outages as soon as they occur.

MORE: While Roads and Rails Crumble, These 3 Projects Are Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure


Chris Peak is a staff writer for NationSwell. He previously worked for Newsday, the San Francisco Public Press and the Point Reyes Light. Contact him at [email protected]