This week, May 11th through the 15th, is Infrastructure Week. Now in its 3rd year, the aim is to raise awareness of the critical importance of infrastructure to America’s economic well-being.
Events during the week aim to bring together business, labor, and public officials, centered on Washington DC but including the rest of the country, to highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.
What exactly is meant by infrastructure? It encompasses most of our built world including roads and bridges, the country’s railroad network, the electrical grid, water and sewer systems, levees and dams, and port facilities. Every one of these systems is critical to every person in the country, not to mention their obvious importance to industry. And clearly, this is not just a concern for civil engineers but for all engineering disciplines.
The origin of this national focus on infrastructure is the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card. Issued every four years, it assesses the condition of the nation’s infrastructure. And for well over a decade now, the results have not been good. (You can view the full report card here and see for yourself, including the condition of the infrastructure in your own state.) Last year, even 60 Minutes ran a segment that spotlighted some of the truly head-scratching stop-gap measures currently in place as well as the close calls we’ve already had.
The focus on our infrastructure is ultimately a long-term project, an investment in our nation’s future. However, I wonder how challenging such a focus can be given that so much of our culture seems to be geared toward the short-term, be it quarterly earnings reports or what’s “hot” today or this week or this hour even. One could reasonably question if we, collectively, are even capable of thinking long-term any more. Can we envision planning, designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure for decades beyond the present moment?
Still, events like Infrastructure Week are useful ways to raise awareness of the seriousness of the problem and begin to discuss solutions to the challenges, including less expensive, alternative solutions to some of the most challenging issues facing our nation.