As the year closes America’s infrastructure endeavors slight towards putting an emphasis on creating resilient structures for longevity
By SERGIO FLORES
On a federal level 2017 wasn’t as transformational in regards to our infrastructure as perhaps we were lead to believe. Trump’s campaign heavily emphasized a rather ambiguous agenda for funding $1 trillion for much needed infrastructure repairs and projects, but a year later those plans have yet to hit the spotlight. We did, however, see in mid-August, movement from President Trump when he signed an executive order designed to expedite the permitting process for infrastructure projects. Trump optimistically remarked, “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.”
The order takes a broad view of infrastructure, noting its impact on economy, world trade, job creation, worker wages, and costs of goods and services. “The poor condition of America’s infrastructure has been estimated to cost a typical American household thousands of dollars each year,” it reads. The statement goes on to acknowledge the inefficiencies of the existing permitting processes and the role those play in delaying infrastructure investments and completions.
More important news this year: America’s infrastructure receives yet another failing grade. This, year the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) published their infrastructure report card that looks at 16 different sectors of America’s infrastructure, such as aviation, bridges, dams, energy, etc., and presents each section with an individual grade. Together, they make a cumulative grade for the overall state of America’s infrastructure. For 2017, ASCE presented America’s overall infrastructure a D+.
Receiving a D+ isn’t a shock. The last ASCE Report Card in 2013 gave our infrastructure the same cumulative grade. Although the cumulative grade was the same, certain sectors did receive higher grades, but others received lower grades than the previous report card. “In the last four years, while there have been some encouraging signs – some states, for example, have stepped up and increased investments at the state level – if you look at it as a whole, the country has moved sideways and I think that’s why the grade didn’t change,” explained Casey Dinges, Senior Managing Director for ASCE. “And the challenge is still significant; we still talk about a funding gap of $2 trillion over ten years. However, it’s a solvable challenge. Over 10 years, it’s a $200 billion a year gap number, and that’s for all 16 categories. We have to think that through strategic and sustained investments, good leadership, comprehensive planning, and careful thought to the future as we think about sustainability and resiliency, we still think that the infrastructure can be improved and restored.”
The real leaders of 2017 have been state and local government leaders who have taken the initiative to get creative with funding for their infrastructure needs. These leaders are not waiting around for federal funding to come through, but are instead investing in alternative methods of funding, partnering with private companies to bring much needed assistance to their city and state’s infrastructure needs. Long-term public-private partnerships are on the rise, as city leaders find this to be the most feasible way to bringing their projects to fruition. The only downfall for P3s of course is that the project needs to be big enough to offer a return of investment for the private company, and so many small, local projects won’t get the benefit and would require federal and state help for funding.
And from fires in California, to hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, this year’s natural disasters highlighted how ill-equipped our infrastructure is. As price tags for each are being developed and well into the billions, now is the perfect time to discuss how to revitalize the damaged areas. Although funding is vital to a project’s success, we need to ensure that the designs are strong and use innovative methods and tools to create infrastructure that will last. More and more industry leaders are stressing the need to continue to build towards longevity. We need bridges that will be here for generations; bridges that can withstand natural disasters and be left standing at the end. We should not be content with losing our infrastructure in a disaster and rebuilding it, only to have it fall again in the next.
Although we gained minimal traction in 2017, this year’s natural disasters saw general bipartisan support for infrastructure funding and construction that looks promising for the new year to come.
Sergio Flores is an Editor for American Infrastructure magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.