America must renew its infrastructure to avoid economic decline. As Americans, we know that our basic infrastructure badly fails to meet the demands of the 21st century as we daily encounter crumbling bridges, pot-holed highways, outdated airports and other critical public facilities across the country. Indeed, The American Society of Civil Engineers grades U.S. infrastructure a D+. As recently announced, a highway bill is making some progress on Capitol Hill — and it’s a good start, yet a great deal more urgency is needed.
When I was working summer jobs during school, I trained as an emergency medical technician and volunteered briefly with my local fire department. One of the key skills any emergency responder first learns is triage: when you arrive on the scene of an emergency with multiple casualties, you must first sort and prioritize all the patients based on their individual needs, then deliver their treatment in order of the most critical life-saving issues first, then deal with less-urgent injuries.
Today, America’s agencies and companies tasked with sustaining our aging infrastructure are in emergency triage mode. We are trying to do the best for as many patients as we can with the limited support and resources available, but we can’t help feeling like our chances of long-term success are slipping through our fingers. How many of us have sat in traffic due to the growing reliance on “emergency road repairs” just to keep our roads open? The backlog of emergency infrastructure repairs is beginning to overwhelm our nation’s ability to efficiently make the life-extending repairs needed.
In both emergency medicine and infrastructure, older patients require extra care. The Interstate Highway System was born more than 50 years ago. New York's George Washington Bridge opened to traffic in 1931. Most of America’s rail system was built more than a century ago. Although these venerable assets have performed admirably for many years, they’re not just old, they’re outdated. From the technology used to design them to the techniques and materials used to build them, many of our critical public structures and facilities are inefficient, expensive to maintain and lacking in long-term resiliency.
In addition to fixing what’s broken, there are other reasons for America to make smart infrastructure investments. One is putting thousands of people to work on projects that will support economic growth and national competitiveness. Another is environmental sustainability.
Originally published in USA Today.