Emergency, Emergency, This is America’s Infrastructure Calling

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Brendan Bechtel, USA Today

America must renew its infrastructure to avoid economic decline. We know that our basic infrastructure fails to meet the demands of the 21st century as we daily encounter crumbling bridges, outdated airports and pot-holed highways. Indeed, The American Society of Civil Engineers grades U.S. infrastructure a D+.

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. 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. Although our venerable infrastructure assets have performed admirably for many years, they are now old and outdated.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.

The world around us is transitioning from the age of industrial infrastructure to the age of smart infrastructure and large-scale investment is required. Investment that will provide a compelling return in the form of resilient and “smart” infrastructure, a cleaner environment, better quality of life and sustainable American jobs — putting thousands of people to work on projects that will support economic growth and national competitiveness.

A world-class approach to infrastructure will produce integrated systems that sense the environment, analyze Big Data and act autonomously and instantly to increase efficiency and minimize risk. Imagine a dam that not only senses rapidly rising water levels and dispatches flood control commands that divert upstream water flow but also adjusts traffic signals to reroute vehicles away from flood zones and triggers early-dismissal advisories for schools in high-risk areas. The result: smooth traffic flow, less pollution, reduced stress on bridges and roads and, most important, enhanced safety for everyone.

The current state of transportation, water distribution and other infrastructure in the United States is significantly below average for developed nations. We must act urgently to invest in our nation’s long-term competitiveness. Innovative delivery options are available that harness private sector innovation. We need to urgently improve policy frameworks that unlock the full potential of Public-Private Partnership (P3) approaches and encourage investment in smart infrastructure. Canada has developed a robust and efficient P3 market that is a world-class model and should be considered and adapted for use here in the U.S.

Federal leadership and state-by-state commitment to rebuilding the nation’s critical infrastructure has to be one of America’s top priorities, replacing chronic under-investment with smart investment — investment that leverages private sector innovation and technology.

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