The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure

Henry Petroski

Bloomsbury 2016

Physical infrastructure in the United States is crumbling. In its latest report, The American Society of Civil Engineers has given American roads and bridges a grade of D and C+, respectively, and has described roughly 65,000 bridges in the U.S. as "structurally deficient." This crisis shows little sign of abating short of a massive change in attitude amongst politicians and the American public.

Civil engineering and history professor Henry Petroski explores our core infrastructure from historical and contemporary perspectives and explains how essential their maintenance is to America's economic health. Recounting the long history behind America's highway system, he reveals the genesis of our interstate numbering system, the inspiration behind the center line that has divided roads for decades, and the creation of such taken-for-granted objects as guardrails, stop signs, and traffic lights – all crucial parts of our national and local infrastructure.

His history of the rebuilding of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge reveals the complex and challenging interplay between government and industry inherent in the conception, funding, design, and building of major infrastructure projects, while his forensic analysis of the street he lives on – its potholes, gutters, and curbs – will engage homeowners everywhere.

A compelling work of history, his book is also an urgent clarion call aimed at American citizens, politicians, and anyone with a vested interest in our economic wellbeing. The road we take in the next decade toward rebuilding our aging infrastructure will in large part determine our future national prosperity.

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