Lessons Learned About Infrastructure Provide a Bright Outlook

Despite the past year’s challenges, our nation’s infrastructure is actively improving

By Brianna Fries

 

Between infrastructure funding bills, investigation and turnover within the Environmental Protection Agency, and a midterm election, 2018 has been a wild year.

This has been especially true for the American infrastructure industry.

We have seen bridges collapse within our country and in countries across the Atlantic, heard tales of shovel-ready projects that cannot quite seem to obtain funding, and even been baffled by projects that are ready to go with funding that somehow cannot get started.

Like I said, 2018 has been a wild year for our industry.

At the same time, it has also been a year of growth and accomplishment. Bills have been passed that have benefited water systems across the country or provided funding for vital projects that can get started at long last. Other infrastructure projects have finally finished being built, having shown the rest of the country how efficiently time and funding was used in the process, and opening our eyes to the possibility of a new standard for the industry. New technologies have been developed that have made professionals lives immensely easier and probably even saved some individuals lives as they spotted major issues with major infrastructure structures before the entire things collapsed.

Both the good and the bad that we have seen have taught us a multitude of lessons. They have also helped us highlight some wonderful year-end Pubby Awards winners that we are honored to feature in this magazine. From roads, to bridges, to water projects, our award winners each showcase something unique that helps emphasize or bring to light a lesson for the infrastructure industry.

I, for one, have noticed three major trends that have developed over the past year that I think may end up benefiting the industry as a whole, if those in the industry make sure to capitalize on them:

  • The use of new approaches to projects: Both the design-build approach and the public-private partnership approach have begun to change how infrastructure projects are being handled. Rather than hearing stories about a bridge’s construction being mishandled and exceeding its budget, I have instead had the joy of writing about many more infrastructure projects that have wrapped up early, boasted on construction that expanded its lifespan longer than expected, used environmentally-friendly approaches, and completed all of this under budget. Whether it is a new approach to an old method or a wider acceptance of a new approach, industry professionals seem to be changing how things are done, much to the benefit of those providing funding and those who rely on these projects wrapping up before they have great-great-grandchildren!
  • Improving project management with new technology: Largely showcased through the growing use of technologies like drones or new EAM programs, industry pros are utilizing technology much more often and largely to their own benefit. In his article on page 40, Kevin Price emphasizes the importance of using anomaly-detecting technology to facilitate project management and detect trouble before the creation of a major issue: “The longer the window of time spent looking for anomalies, the more it costs in terms of time, effort and, of course, funds… We live in a mobile, always-on world. If we are truly to look forward as an industry, any anomaly reporting should be enabled to push out to mobile devices, so that all stakeholders can help in determining whether an impending problem is about to occur.”
  • Sustainable approaches: While environmental-friendliness and infrastructure are normally not mentioned in the same arenas, I have been hearing about an increasing number of projects that boast their sustainability. It seems like, much akin to the homebuilding industry, infrastructure industry professionals have begun to discover that, not only are approaches that take the surrounding environment into account more beneficial in the long run, but also that sustainable materials and building practices will reduce costs, while aiding to longer lifespans for their new infrastructures. Add to that a reduction in the impact on the climate from waste and pollution, and you get the added benefits of weather patterns that may soften up again one day and give our roads, bridges, etc. a break and allow them to live even longer. Go green!

To top off these positive trends, we are also seeing some movement from Washington D.C. in terms of funding for areas such as transportation, rural infrastructure, and water infrastructure.

The year of 2018 has certainly had its ups and downs, but I firmly believe that we will be wrapping this year up on a positive note and beginning 2019 with an improved infrastructure grade quickly approaching on the horizon. We are already seeing individual states who have raised their own grades for certain infrastructure focuses.

As long as the industry professionals remember to use new technology to their benefit, adapt to new approaches efficiently, and capitalize on sustainability, the United States of America could be well on its way to being an infrastructural world leader once again.

 

Brianna Fries is an Assistant Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at brianna@penpubinc.com

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