But not simply because they are failing.
Several of the most majorly used infrastructure systems in the USA – namely – roads, local water, and housing prone to greater risk, are overused.
These systems were put in place so long ago that nobody can imagine not using them.
The problem is that the systems were designed when the population was less than half what it is today. Eighty-five percent of Americans drive to work, road fatalities increase every year, and driver distractions are rising.
The road system this 85 percent travel on was designed to bring cars from slow local roads onto high-speed freeways, and as a result, many people end up driving too fast before they get to the high-speed areas.
This causes problems, but there is so much invested into the current system, and to change it would be a very large-scale project.
The problem is not that the roads are crumbling and in constant states of repair (though this is the case in many areas) – the problem is that the very system itself is causing a higher level of risk than necessary. This is only one example, and there are many more.
Ranjitha Shivaram and Adie Tomer address this thoroughly in their article “Do our infrastructure systems put people at risk?” on Brooking’s blog, The Avenue:
“Simply put, many places continue to rely on legacy infrastructure systems that fail to account for—or adequately address—risk. But, several places are launching innovative investments and plans to support safer, more reliable infrastructure networks. We now have replicable models for investing in safer streets, building better water systems, and procuring resilience to mitigate the risk that individuals assume when they use infrastructure. For policymakers contemplating the next infrastructure investment or for civil engineers designing the next infrastructure project, addressing this question is key: can this system fail in ways that will place people at risk, and if so, how can we re-think its design?”
This idea of addressing risks at a design level is a critical one. Why constantly work with an inherited system that is inherently flawed?
Envisioning and developing future infrastructure systems that meet our communities’ needs while maintaining, renewing, and transitioning existing infrastructure is one of the more interesting challenges that infrastructure asset management practitioners work with.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Dllu – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57411746