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Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

The New York Times has a couple of recent opinion columns by Bob Herbert on U.S. infrastructure deficiences and lack of funding. (My thoughts are U.S. focused but feel free to chime in with observations from other countries)


Here's a few selections:
"Schools, highways, the electric grid, water systems, ports, dams, levees — the list can seem endless — have to be maintained, upgraded, rebuilt or replaced if the U.S. is to remain a first-class nation with a first-class economy over the next several decades. And some entirely new infrastructure systems will have to be developed.

"But these systems have to be paid for, and right now there are not enough people at the higher echelons of government trying to figure out the best ways to raise the enormous amounts of money that will be required, and the most responsible ways of spending that money. And there are not enough leaders explaining to the public how heavy this lift will be, and why it is so necessary, and what sacrifices will be required to get the job properly done.

"In an era of historically high budget deficits, the case has to be made that this is not wasteful spending but essential investments that will yield powerful returns. "If you're not willing to invest," said Governor Rendell, "you have to be willing to accept an inferior product. That's the danger we're facing." "

"The great danger right now is that we will do exactly the wrong thing, that we'll turn away from our screaming infrastructure needs and let the deterioration continue. With infrastructure costs so high (the needs are enormous and enormously expensive) and with the eyes in Washington increasingly focused on deficit reduction, the absolutely essential modernizing of the American infrastructure may not take place. That would be worse than foolish. It would be tragic."

(end of article quotes)

This is old news to many engineers involved in public infrastructure. The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) has for years published a "report card" on the nation's infrastructure, giving it poor grades, calling attention to deficiencies and calling for more funding. Events like the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the New Orleans levee failures bring out many news stories on this issue.

As a civil engineer, a massive increase in infrastructure investment would be good news for me and for the profession. (The stimulus funding helped address some needs, but it really addressed the tip of the iceberg, and a lot of stimulus funding went to construction projects that were already about to roll anyway, allowing state/local governments to shift funds elsewhere).

But the seeming need for a huge investment in infrastructure is up against a budget crisis for many, many state and local governments. In my state and local area, government budgets are said to be the tightest in decades. So there is seemingly no money at the state/local level to increase infrastructure funding - and much infrastructure is funded and built at the state and local level. For example, I live a long way from California - but how in the world is California going to make any increases to infrastructure funding, given its current budget and economic crisis?

I have been thinking about what the outcome will be of this impasse - an apparent need for big increases in infrastructure funding, but very little money to do so. Here are some possibilities:

1. There will be a massive revenue increase through new taxes, shift from other government programs, privatization, or the federal government running big deficits and making a huge federal commitment to funding.

2. Infrastructure funding will not substantially increase because of lack of money and political will, and therefore our infrastructure will fall apart over the next decade or two, harming public safety and quality of life in the U.S. until our infrastructure crumbles to dust.

3. Infrastructure funding will not substantially increase, but that will be okay becausethe "infrastructure crisis" is overhyped. The current rate of investment is sufficient. (This goes against my ASCE's party line, but I'm willing to listen to arguments that the "infrastructure crisis" is a way to drum up more money for engineers and construction companies - I'm a taxpayer too).

4. We'll figure out smarter, more efficient, cost-effective ways to use new methods, materials and technologies to fix our infrastructure without the projected huge costs. For example, can concepts like BIM and 4D construction modeling bring down project costs when applied to infrastructure projects? Outcome #4 would be great, but realistically what can we do much differently from what we do now?


RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

I blame the entire infrastructure mess on John V. Lindsay, who as Mayor of New York City, resolved one of their perpetual budget crises by firing all of the city's bridge painters.  
The bridges did not fall down immediately.
Twenty years later, the West Side Highway fell down, with some loss of life.
Lindsay should have been convicted of murder for it, but he wasn't even indicted.

Now, when politicians weigh in on things like maintenance costs of old structures, they all seem to honestly believe that it's cheaper to replace something like a major bridge than to paint it.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

I have gone to two ASCE meetings and found that the main thrust of the dialog was how to expand and create new pubic projects that benefit ASCE members at substantial costs to average citizens.  There is an enormous amount of public funds that end up being filter through to ASCE members, and as such, I believe that much of the activities of the ASCE leadership is to communicate/promote public projects to politicians.
I would suggest that ASCE members/leadership: (1) Stop trying to create an expansion of new public projects. (2) Do not promote subsidized green projects that cannot finically stand on their own merits, our citizens cannot afford this type of waste.  Alternative energy projects are some of the worst.  (3) Inform/educate politicians that all public projects have an ongoing maintenance cost once completed.  ASCE members should not give political shelter to politicians by understating the true lifecycle cost of a project.  (4) Stop promoting our government/politicians to engage in deficit spending.

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Next thing they'll propose is an "Infrastructure Czar".

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Ageing infrastructure in some ways is a true, and false.
Public infrastructure is getting bad.
Privite infrastructure is improving, or going bankrupt.

So the solution seems to be to privitize as much infrastructure as possible.

However, look at the power grid. It works for what it was designed to do. But at the present, outsiders want to use it for something else, and they are shocked that it wasen't built for them. And they complain we need infrastructure improvments. This is just a case of micromanaging for an agenda.

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Here's a great graphic that puts things into perspective


Look at Simulus 1 package and the amount of money allocated towards infrastructure versus everything else.

Honestly I think the blame squarely rests with ASCE.  Nobody is going to do anything until bridges start failing or engineers start informing the public better.  The latter is ASCE's job if they cant get politicians to listen.  If infrastructure is so bad, why isn't ASCE more vocal?

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

B16A2 - ASCE implemented the Report Card effort in the late 90s.  Only in the last few years has this really caught on and gained in momentum.  

One of the reasons it did not catch on as well as it should have is many engineers were afraid to point to their infrastructure and call it bad for fear of repercussions that A. they were ambulance chasers only making a case for more work and B. that area politicians would rise against them for labeling an area poorly thus chasing away people and companies from putting roots.

While I agree that deficit spending is not a solution, I am not so sure there exists another solution that will bear fruit in the time frame it is necessary.  Our infrastructure needs work now, not ten years from now.  

Perhaps a two prong approach to the problem is to have ASCE immediately getting into each and every rep and senator to really hit the issue home while another ASCE group encourages a dialogue on alternate budget/spending on infrastructure.

Aside from how to pay for it, I'm afraid the recognition of this problem as is old and as simple as Aesop's Emperor's New Clothes.  Collectively we (emperor) doesn't want to see the reality of the problem.  Sad.

Eng-Tips Forums:Real Solutions for Real Problems Really Quick.

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Sort of out in the blue, but one way to bring light to the problems is to publish them.

It worked well years ago when the local news station had the pot hole of the week award. It embarised the city in to fixing the pot holes.


RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

I blame our parents.  Their generation built more infrastructure than their cheap b*stard children could afford to maintain!


RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Well Southern California is basically falling apart, and they seem to be able to fix everything as it breaks.  So maybe there is no real issue?  Just wait until whatever breaks, and then fix the problem.

Civil Development Group, LLC
Los Angeles Civil Engineering specializing in Hillside Grading

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Good point, why fix something until it breaks, or is close to breaking. Then all this complaining about infrastructure is just window dressing for something else.

Roads maybe getting bad, but what are the railroads doing? (public vs privite compairson).
Right they are fixing the lines they need, and doing away with the ones they don't need.
However goverments don't do that very well.

Let the voters decide which roads they want to support, and which ones they don't.

RE: Infrastructure crisis? Possible outcomes/solutions?

Cranky108, the railroads aren't as independent as you may think.  Many of them use federal money to improve their facilities.  Based on awards made from the TIGER funds teh greater percentage went to rail projects with Norfolk Southern getting a huge funding share.

Eng-Tips Forums:Real Solutions for Real Problems Really Quick.

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