The 200,000 miles of highways, roads and supporting bridges and tunnels that connect the U.S. comprise by most all accounts, the largest infrastructure project in the world. This civil engineering marvel is a feat of engineering that laid the foundation for close to 60 years of economic growth and prosperity. Infrastructure at its core is to help enable and support the desires and aspirations of the citizens who in the community it supports.
By now, it’s also become a cliché to point out that it’s falling apart. In fact, the massive size of the highway systems is also its weak link. We built it, we’re dependent on it, and like all things made by man, now it is breaking, crumbling, and in some cases, falling down. Worse yet, it is locked in place in densely populated areas. The “functionally obsolete” Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey, for example, can’t be replaced — only rehabbed. It can’t carry trucks, yet more trucks are coming onto the roadways. This could mean infrastructure designers have to look at new ways to move goods around the country.
Why? The rapid growth of the e-commerce economy and the prospect of technology that includes, among other things, trucks, means freight may soon compete for a greater share of the roadway. Much of that freight, is funneled onto roadways that weren’t designed with trucks in mind and with bottlenecks similar to Pulaski Skyway – this traffic will be routed or forced by reaction by drivers onto local roads – again where they were never designed for that amount of traffic or the size/weight of these particular vehicles. The end result, more rapid and widespread degradation of the largest infrastructure system in the world.
The challenges continue when you look at the impact of the environment around it – water, waste, transit – the list is never-ending. Unlike the human body, these systems [city and transportation infrastructure] are often developed in silos, over time, in less-than-perfect ways. They are typically built for normality, not adaptability. As a result, there is no guarantee — often no real plan — that they work well together when subjected to a shock, whether natural or man-made.
Get more on the triple bottom line impact in this project in Washington D.C.
Whether it’s the reduction in number of drivers as the millennials move into urban environments [some say as much as a 50% reduction] or the move to electric based cars, the drain on funding $$ from the gas tax clearly is an outdated approach. It is clear that building more highways like we have in the past even if funding was available is not the answer. A reset in thinking, a more holistic approach and true infrastructure vision/planning is.