As the arguments for infrastructure spending increase yet again, I’m reminded of a report put out by the nation’s civil engineers at least 20 years ago. It basically said the nation’s infrastructure was not just crumbling, but that if repair and modernizations didn’t start soon we’d reach a point of no return. The bridge collapse a few years ago in Minneapolis and now recent bridge closures between Ohio and Kentucky underscore just how far things have slipped.
Almost 150,000 of the nation’s nearly 600,000 bridges are structurally unreliable, according to this report in Kentucky.com. In Kentucky alone the bad bridges equal about a third of the total in that state. Bridges built in the 1950s and 1960s had life spans of about 50 years and the average bridge today is 43 years old. Perhaps initial design requirements should have been greater, but then, they were dealing with the state of construction at the time, complete with the limitations of available technology and materials.
But there’s more to infrastructure than just bridges. There are roads, tunnels, trains, airports, schools and all the associated buildings and equipment that go with those. Then too, there is electrical utility lines and Internet backbone also screaming for investment.
We have to some degree missed out on the opportunities the Internet has been offering all these years, because we still look at employment as something that takes place somewhere we have to travel to. Sure, for many that’s true, but for countless office workers and others who can perform their jobs with computer technology it really isn’t necessary anymore to go somewhere to do their work. No doubt, the only reasons many people still commute somewhere to work is because they want to, or because corporations haven’t figured out what to do with their real estate if they don’t use it to house workers.
So, beyond fixing infrastructure, the nation really needs to get serious about using resources much more wisely and investing in more infrastructure than just those related to vehicles and moving people. After all the years of millions paying taxes on their phone bills to fund high speed Internet to every place in the country, there are still huge expanses where people are relying on dial up, bandwidth limiting satellite offerings, and low speed and intermittent Internet service. The country needs more than just infrastructure investment — it needs creative, forward looking infrastructure investment.