Future of Infrastructure in the United States

The infrastructure in the United States is deteriorating at an accelerated pace.  Water-mains are bursting, bridges are crumbling, tunnels are caving-in, roads are in disrepair, and the number of accidents and resulting economic waste in this country is completely unacceptable.  With weather volatility evidenced in the past couple years, it is not out of the question that our infrastructure will continue to be tested well beyond its limits, and fail in some cases.

An analysis of the water infrastructure in the United States can be found here: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/sustain/ . If we are to expect continued economic growth and development in the United States, the way that we/resources are physically mobile must be improved to help sustain that growth.

An analogy could be made by comparing the economy to a human body.  The circulation of materials and resources (blood cells, dissolved nutrients, etc.) can be seen as the economy’s circulation – and if there’s a clot (natural disaster) in a vital region (let’s say NYC) the global economy could grind to a halt.`So, clogged arteries are like ports and other transport hubs across the globe, if they cannot parley resources efficiently and fluidly.  Quantitative easing could be like a blood-thinner, being designed to make it easier for us to take out loans from banks, thus increasing economic activity and liquidity in the market.  I could go on for days explaining how each body part can be compared to a component of the global economy, but I think you get the picture – infrastructure is important, and its degradation over the years should not go underfunded and overlooked.

If we are to try to close the trade deficit in this country like what Obama has been pushing, we must be able to accommodate higher trade volumes if we are to maintain our current “American” lifestyles.

I think we should physically connect the crap out of this country.  The best way to facilitate business would be through universally integrated and expedited shipping processes.  If we connect ourselves like Europe, with high-speed commuter trains zig-zagging the continent.  The US is blessed with a myriad of freshwater river systems.  If we are able to invest in more canals, most notably for land-locked developing cities like Atlanta, Research Triangle Park, Charlotte, and Richmond (among others, those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head), we will be able to maintain and nurture a second major economic boom in America’s history (the Post-WWII period being the “ideal” economic period in America’s history).  What made that time special was the average citizen’s mentality – it exemplified togetherness with mass sales of war bonds, funding the government that was keeping the economy afloat, and resurrected it from the Great Depression in the 30s.

Port designs will have to improve: many are not able to accommodate the large Post-Panamax tankers and ships. The ports along much of the east coast, west coast, and Mississippi cannot meet the needs of the increasingly global aspect of our economy.  Port expansion, dredging, and other techniques can do this, but they require a lot of time and economic resources; an innovation in the construction industry to facilitate this process will be needed if the government will continue to be unwilling to spend exorbitant amounts in infrastructure investments [investments because of the positive economic impact they create].

The railway system will need to be expanded and integrated with established commuter hubs.  This should start on the East Coast first, connecting the world’s largest megalopolis together – From Boston to Atlanta.  Other possible capillary bed train transport corridors could be from San Diego to Seattle on the West Coast and from NYC to Minneapolis in the Midwest.  Other parts of the country are not densely populated enough to be viable candidates for an economically rational commuter rail infrastructure investment.

This will also reduce the strain on the airline industry in the US, which may decrease airlines’ impact on aggregate income, but I believe this loss in income will be more than made up for via jobs from construction, public and industrial transportation services, and other sectors significantly tied to the railway industry.

Also, a goal is to get as many trucks and heavier vehicles off the roads as possible to preserve the integrity of our infrastructure.  Imagine being able to move all of your house’s contents across the country via train.  It won’t make any wrong turns, won’t have to stop to sleep eat or pee, it will show up on time, and it can be delivered locally – all done by rail.  The rail service is also the cheapest, safest, and most carbon-sensitive land-based transport method.  Taking the burden off the roads is one giant step toward helping our infrastructure last while also decreasing maintenance costs.  Imagine all of the time, resources, and lives needlessly wasted from driving motor vehicles since there is a safer, smarter alternative – that’s one huge incurred opportunity cost!

We will also need to change the type of building material we use in construction.  There are advanced building materials coming out that are beginning to use nanotechnology – for example, water-repellant concrete can keep cracks and potholes from forming (especially in the northern half of the United States) [see here].  In addition, we should find ways to make our concrete brighter and more reflective – driving at night is an inherent hazard, but using more reflective concrete will also help reflect more energy back into space (especially for major highways and parking lots) [see here].

Also, traffic patterns should change.  It is proven that using circles instead of traffic signals helps facilitate the flow of traffic through intersections.  The constant flow of cars around the circle allows for a large percentage of the people trying to pass through the intersection to become active members of the process.  The economic impact from fewer decelerative and accelerative forces that can shear the integrity of a car’s engine and brake pads, less time wasted waiting in queue to use the intersection, and fewer pedestrian casualties can be tremendous.  Also, I will assert in a later post that we must switch over to a purely electric car system if we are smart enough to strategically position ourselves for when the Peak Oil phenomenon reaches the masses (we hit global peak oil production in 2005, and peak US oil in the 70s – 2011 is actually the highest on record, but it is most likely to service emerging market growth and facilitated by better oil withdrawal techniques).

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About alexpadraic

Alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Living/working in NYC

Posted on May 12, 2012, in Economics, Technology, The Academy, Words of Wisdumb and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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