Getting Old…

By Greg Sitek

Site-K Editorial Staff

Together, these two words are among the least desirable in our language. You go to the doctor complaining about sore muscles, stiff joints, an aching back, feeling tired after a full-night’s sleep and you’re likely to hear, “Well Greg, these are some of the things we have to put up with as we start getting old.”

Did you notice, we’re never old; we’re always getting old. That’s because admitting the “old fact” means we have to accept conditions that will not improve even if you go to the gym, take your vitamins, drink 6, 10 or 12 glasses of water daily, and consume a quart of prune juice (not really, I just stuck that in to see if you were paying attention) daily.

Our infrastructure is getting old. Like us, getting old when applied to the infrastructure means conditions will not improve. The difference here is that we can effect improvements whereas when applied to a human, there’s little that can be done to alter the end result.

Another way of putting this, you’re about to take a nonstop trip from Chicago to Sidney,  Australia. The 9,239-mile trip will take 18 hours and 29 minutes. How comfortable would you be to board the airplane knowing that it was 60 years old and had only been given superficial maintenance attention? Maybe a better comparison would be to ask how you’d feel about going in for open heart surgery knowing that the doctor was using technology, procedures and equipment that were 60 years old.

Our infrastructure is beyond getting old. It’s old. When a lot of it was put in place there were fewer than 100 million people trying to overload and wear it out! In 1900 there were 76.09 million people who used the existing and developing infrastructure; in 1950 the numbers had increased to 152.27 million; in 2000 the numbers had grown to 282.16 million and by 2011 we increased to 311.59 million. In 100 years – give or take – we more than tripled our population.

That wouldn’t be so bad because we do have the landmass to accommodate the numbers but population growth is not evenly dispersed over our 3.8 million square miles. It is concentrated in areas that have considerable density.  This condition or trend will continue. Cities will grow but people won’t disburse and move off to the wide open spaces. Our supporting infrastructure hasn’t expanded in direct proportion to our population growth.

Our entire infrastructure is directly impacted. A recent Washington Post article, Aging Power Grid On Overload As U.S. Demands More Electricity states, “The United States doesn’t yet face the critical shortage of power that has left more than 600 – million people in India without electricity this week.

“But the U.S. grid is aging and stretched to capacity. More often the victim of decrepitude than the forces of nature, it is beginning to falter. Experts fear failures that caused blackouts in New York, Boston and San Diego may become more common as the voracious demand for power continues to grow. They say it will take a multibillion-dollar investment to avoid them.”

Water and sewer problems are common especially along the East Coast, New England and Midwest. Our total transportation infrastructure, not just our roads and highways, is in desperate need of repair and updating. It needs to be updated in order to handle the current population and its projected growth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the problem isn’t going to go away, it’s going to continue and worsen.

Year          Projected Population               % of change from 2000

2020

341,387,000

21%

2030

373,504,000

32%

2040

405,655,000

44%

2050

439,010,000

55%

Source U.S. Census Bureau

The population consumes vast quantities of food, clothing, hard goods and all this has to be distributed from coast to coast with most of the distribution handled by trucks. According to Trucking Info. Net. “The United States economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods transported by truck in the U.S. alone. Add $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195.6 billion in truck trade with Mexico.” An estimated 15.5-million over-the-road trucks accomplish this feat.

In 1960 vehicle population was 54.8 million. By 2000 this number had grown to 178.3 million and by 2009 it  reached 254.2 million. Our highway system went through a serious growth spurt from 1956 through 1990 (give or take a few years) but has experienced little growth since. It’s easy to understand why there is congestion, bridge failure and structural failure.

It took forever to get this last highway bill passed and it is only for the short-term, expiring in 2014. Hopefully between now and time for its renewal we will be able to develop a serious program that looks at and incorporates our total transportation infrastructure and its interface with all other aspects of our national infrastructure. We are approaching the integration of all these infrastructure elements as we look into a future that will be designed by emerging and yet to-be-developed technologies.

The thing about an infrastructure investment is that there is a payback. Infrastructure work creates jobs, not only on the jobsite but also in a myriad of enterprises that are needed to support the in-field efforts. Materials and supplies have to be produced, sold, delivered, installed and inspected; engineering and design is a necessary facet; the list is endless and it’s domestic. Go back and take a serious look at our economic growth. Much of it was because of our infrastructure investment. It was our national and industrial infrastructures that gave us the ability to prevail in two World Wars and recoup.

With the elections so close you may want to take the time to find out where the candidates you vote for stand on the infrastructure, highway bill and related programs. You will definitely want to enlighten or remind your Washington representatives that this is an investment essential to our continued economic growth, job creation and world leadership.

August 9, 2012 CBS News Reports:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57489778/urgency-rising-to-fix-nations-crumbling-bridges/?tag=nl.e875

This article will appear in the September 2012 issues of the ACP magazines.

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