Putting Infrastructure First
Every time I write about the U.S. infrastructure I can’t help but wonder what it will take before we all respond as a nation. State after state is dealing with some infrastructure issues that in some way or another are causing giant pains, keeping city officials and residents fearful that something awful is inevitably going to happen. We need everyone to be thinking about how we are going to solve these problems. People are dreading a heavy rain that might result in a collapsing bridge, crumbling road, a giant sink hole, or an eroding spillway.
Most of you already know the story in February, amid heavy rains and flooding, 188,000 people in California were evacuated from their homes because the nation’s tallest dam, the Oroville Dam, was predicted to fail. Years before, various groups had called out the very issues that would have caused the dam to fail, but federal regulatory agencies turned a blind eye. As a result, the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway was left to erode even further. People began to panic. Fortunately, as some would say, the bridge did not fail. You might say that was good luck. But it was luck.
The Oroville Dam incident is just one more reminder that America’s infrastructure is in bad shape, to say the least. According to the most definitive measure of U.S. infrastructure health, the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), www.asce.org, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which is published once every four years, the nation’s infrastructure earned a dismal grade of D+ in 2017. Four years ago, when the report card was released in 2013, the story was the same—D+, a near-failing grade.
The issue is well documented, and, for such a big problem, the solution is surprisingly simple. Unlike attempting to reverse global warming or replace war and genocide with world peace, the answer to America’s crumbling infrastructure is clear: investment. This investment needs to be across the board from tech, to people, to long-term adoption and vision.
Unfortunately, investing in infrastructure is complicated and very messy. Partisan politics are part of the DNA of the United States, but division along party lines has been a big part of the stall when it comes to infrastructure investment. Short-term fixes have helped here and there, but at what cost? Long-term failure is not a palatable strategy.
Infrastructure affects every business and every person in the U.S. It supports daily life in ways most people don’t think about very often, until there’s an issue. However, the state of the U.S. infrastructure is already holding the nation back. For instance, in determining the cost of deteriorating infrastructure, the ASCE suggests from 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to infrastructure deficiencies. Perhaps one of the most tangible examples is traffic, which costs businesses and individuals a significant amount of time and money each year.
On a grander scale, infrastructure deficiencies impact the quality and quantity of jobs in the U.S., which can take a dramatic toll on the nation’s economy. This negative impact will only get worse with time. By 2025, poor infrastructure could cost $3.9 trillion to the U.S. GDP (gross domestic product).
When it comes to supporting and growing the IoT (Internet of Things), the conversation is predicated on the fact that this and every other industry in the U.S. is being negatively affected by insufficient infrastructure. How can our government or any other industry talk about reaching its potential in smart city, smart energy, industry 4.0, autonomous vehicles, and beyond, when its roads, bridges, ports, and waterways are crumbling? Perhaps it’s time we start focusing on the right things, perhaps the big hack that could costs more than the trillions just noted. Raising the grade on the infrastructure requires leadership and investment. Seems like we might be missing what needs to happen and in what sequence.