It seems like an eternity ago we were treated to action-oriented promises of significant funding boosts for long-overdue infrastructural upgrades, led by such exciting hyperbole as “shovel-ready.” The idea of more and more deficit spending is not something I favor, but if we’re going into hock for another 3 or 4 trillion bucks, at least let’s put it into areas that will benefit the nation in the long run. But is this what’s happened? You tell me.
Two of Grading & Excavation Contractor's sister publications—Stormwater and Water Efficiency—are directly involved with the situation, and another—Erosion Control—is involved, if only tangentially. (You can view and subscribe to all of our magazines online at www.forester.net.) All three recognize the critical situation in which our nation finds itself in the first decade of the 21st century, forced to face the painful fact that we can no longer ignore the inadequate state of much of our basic (mostly underground) infrastructure. Age, of course, accounts for a lot of the problem, but there are other—equally fundamental—issues as well.
For one thing, population growth over the last 100 years has pushed many systems beyond their design limits. In 1900, the US population was 76 million, only one-third of which (25 million) lived in an urban setting. We were for the most part an agrarian society.
Today, the US population is 300 million—a 400% increase—two-thirds of which (200 million) is now urban. That’s an eightfold increase in the demand for basic utility services, huge by any standards. But there’s more.
Over the past 100 years, urban per capita water consumption has trebled, rising from 60 gallons per day to 180 gallons per day. This means that at the very least our urban water consumption has risen from 1.5 billion to 360 billion gallons per day over the period. I’d be the first to concede that all such figures are suspect. I offer them not for accuracy’s sake, though, but to put into perspective what’s at stake over the next several decades.
Where has the money gone?
In the past I’ve gone with an estimated cost range of $15 trillion to $30 trillion that will be needed between now and 2050 to deal with the entire range of infrastructure shortfalls—transportation and electrical transmission included—but that range is based on what it might take to restore things to an adequate level based on past demands. This brings into focus two antithetical situations: 1) Tomorrow’s needs are bound to be greater than today’s, and 2) with all the competing needs for public funds, it’s highly unlikely those kinds of monies will be set aside for infrastructural repair or upgrade in anything approaching a proactive manner.
Despite the rhetoric, it still seems that we’re geared to wait until failures pose such an undeniable threat to public health, safety, and commerce that we are forced beyond finger-in-the-dike solutions. And even then we’re apt to apply business-as-usual remedies rather than turn to solutions suited to living patterns of today and the future.
To date, the stimulus funding of infrastructural projects has been far less than promised or required. It’s time for our leaders to give an accounting of what they’ve accomplished thus far and get on with the task of rebuilding America to its former greatness.