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National Infrastructure Week: Reaching A Crossroads, It’s Time to Build

Dr. Mark LeChevallier, American Water | May 17, 2017

Every household has that drawer, closet or corner of the attic you’d rather not talk about. I know I do. It starts out innocent enough—you don’t know what to do the vase aunt Addie gave you so you just put it away “for now.” Slowly other gifts and broken household items accumulate in that space. At some point, you think, “I really should do something about this.” You have the best intentions, but that’s as far as it goes—it’s easy enough to close the drawer or closet door and forget about it.

Eventually, that door won’t close, that drawer gets jammed, or you can’t walk safely in that attic. And as the structure of the space itself begins to weaken (how many of us have had the “junk drawer” bottom out?), you can no longer look the other way. So, you begin to attack the piles, the whole time chastising yourself, “If I’d only kept this under control, the cleanup and repair would have been so much easier!”

This experience paints a vivid picture of what Infrastructure Week 2017 is all about. Running from May 15-19, it is a call for everyone—from politicians to individuals, utility leaders to community influencers—to not only recognize the critical crossroads American infrastructure has reached, but to be more vocal and active in helping to do something about it.

Going back to our analogy, America’s infrastructure is at the point where the shelves can longer sustain the weight. Populations are growing and ways of life are changing, putting increasingly greater demands on everything from aging water pipes, to wastewater disposal, to the power grid, to dams, bridges and roadways. Moreover, for decades, the country has let deferred bills for infrastructure replacement and repair pile up while some have looked the other way—allowing infrastructure to continue to erode. A look at the most recent ASCE Report Cards for American Infrastructure proves this point with American infrastructure once again receiving a cumulative D+ grade in 2017. America’s drinking water infrastructure held steady at a D from 2013 to 2017, while wastewater progressed slightly from a D to a D+.

If you think, “well, still, America must be outpacing other countries in infrastructure investments,” think again. You might be surprised to learn that other countries have invested significantly more in all kinds of infrastructure. This dynamic is putting Americans behind as the cost and time invested in “dealing with” aging infrastructure brings progress everywhere else down with it.

The hopeful news is that:

  1. Americans do care about and understand the urgency of the infrastructure situation. Right now, more Americans support investing in our infrastructure than nearly any other issue.
  2. American engineers and scientists have the innovative ideas and technology for solutions ready to go to work as soon as funding is available.
  3. Politicians and other influencers are beginning to recognize that the $3 trillion infrastructure investment gap cannot be solved by incremental or stop-gap solutions. Leaders are looking seriously to advancing innovative partnership and funding needed for truly transformative projects that lead to sustainable solutions.

As the theme of Infrastructure Week 2017 says, it’s time to build America. The theme is not, make things better, or even re-build—because American Infrastructure is in crisis. During the week, more than 60 events are happening across the country, with the support of over 300 affiliate organizations, creating opportunities for everyone to join the mission. You can also follow the conversation online at #TimetoBuild and get involved!

And remember, it’s not enough to clean out that space, repair the damage and then start the cycle all over again. The crisis will only recur. We all need to make a commitment to change by putting the stronger voices, knowledge, and activities of Infrastructure Week to work 52 weeks a year.