Washington - The monster snow storm hitting the United States this week may be a random act of nature, but the resulting gridlock will likely unleash a more predictable stream of criticism over downed power lines, airport closures and a lack of snow ploughs.
States, cities and private power companies have already come under intense public pressure since December for their handling of a series of major winter storms that have struck north-eastern regions.
'If only we could fashion a large wall or blade and attach it to a big truck and somehow push the snow away,' The New Yorker Magazine quipped this month, mocking New York's lack of snow ploughs during its last major storm in December.
The United States is far from alone in struggling with winter madness. But the snow chaos is just one small aspect of a wider crisis of crumbling infrastructure across the United States - a problem that is more uniquely American.
From the breached levies in New Orleans after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, to a major bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2007, there have been signs for years that much of the country's infrastructure is in urgent need of repair.
'Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped,' President Barack Obama said last week in his annual State of the Union speech to Congress.
Obama pointed to higher spending in Europe, Russia and China to repair roads, bridges, rail and even extend high-speed internet access. He cited the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave US infrastructure a 'D' grade - one letter above failing - in 2009.
Europe on average spends about 5 per cent of its economic output on improving infrastructure. China spends about 9 per cent, while the United States spends only 2 per cent, according to a report by the US Treasury Department last October.
Tackling crumbling infrastructure is one of the few areas where Obama might find common ground with conservative Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives this year after Obama's self-described 'shellacking' in November's congressional elections.
Infrastructure is the backbone of any economy, and its decline has alarmed businesses and public officials alike. That sparked a rare coalition between the country's top labour unions and business associations in the aftermath of Obama's speech on January 26.
Private-sector jobs 'grow where infrastructure is strong. Countries that aspire to compete with the United States know that,' said Janet Kavinoky of the US Chamber of Commerce. 'It's why they are building transportation, energy, telecommunications and water infrastructure systems to support their economies.'
The funding gap is massive. A study in October by two former transportation secretaries, Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, estimated the shortfall for transportation alone at anywhere from 134 billion dollars to 194 billion dollars per year.
That is simply to keep transportation infrastructure at its current level. Any improvements - such as high-speed rail lines that are commonplace in much of Europe and Asia - are estimated to cost in the range of 189 billion dollars to 262 billion dollars.
'It all comes down to ... how is the new infrastructure investment going to be funded? How do you pay for it?' asked Rick Geddes, a former economic advisor to president George W Bush and now with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank.
Obama already sought to fill some of the gap, using more than 100 billion dollars in the 814-billion-dollar 2009 stimulus package that was designed to kick-start an economy in recession. It marked the largest single infrastructure investment since former president Dwight Eisenhower launched a massive national highway system in the 1950s.
Obama has proposed another 50 billion dollars as part of a six- year plan that would also tap into private funds and be paid for by ending subsidies for oil and natural gas. There is also a running debate over raising petrol taxes - low by European standards - though politicians from both parties have rejected the idea in public.
But most conservative lawmakers balk at the prospect of any more government spending, instead demanding massive cuts to bring down a federal budget deficit that has remained above 10 per cent of gross domestic product since 2009.
Many US states and local governments are also suffering chronic budget shortfalls in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession and ongoing weak economy, a key problem that has made the infrastructure question much more urgent in the past two years.
Congressman John Mica, a Republican who chairs the House committee on transportation and will play a key role in crafting any new legislation on the topic, suggested there was an opening to work with the Obama administration - but only a small one.
'Just another proposal to spend more of the taxpayers money ... will never get our economic car out of the ditch,' Mica said last week. 'We've got to do more with less to improve our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner.'
That leaves only one option, said Geddes: More private investment. He advocates public-private partnerships for transportation that would involve an overhaul of how consumers currently pay for their road privileges, such as more tolls, or paying per kilometre driven.
'The old funding approach will simply not work any longer,' said Geddes. 'They're going to have to consider alternative ways of financing infrastructure.'