America’s infrastructure reflects who we are as a people. Infrastructure defines as a nation. It is a realization of us as a community.
With the prospect of a meaningful bipartisan infrastructure bill now in Washington, it’s worth reminding ourselves of this, and revisiting what this means.
Infrastructure defines us as a nation because it is a manifestation of the commitments we have made to our community. The investments we make in infrastructure mirror our national and personal priorities. The state of our infrastructure is a representation of the importance we have placed on maintaining our national well-being and our belief that the rising tide lifts all boats. Maintaining our infrastructure is national self-care, supporting the idea of a common good and a mutual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
A lot of media attention has been focused on what should be included in a definition of infrastructure. My company, Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure, casts the net wide to include all the integral hardscape and critical services that promote the proper functioning of society. But it is really beside the point whether a person believes public schools and clinics should be included alongside roads, airports and power transmission. The Constitution cites promotion of the “general welfare” toward “a more perfect union” as a primary reason for its existence. With that in mind, we feel that the following points are of utmost importance when considering a new infrastructure package:
• Any meaningful long-term infrastructure package is better than no package. It shocks many when they learn that the nation’s last truly comprehensive and meaningful infrastructure package was drafted more than 15 years ago. The 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users was largely a redo of the 1998 Transportation Equity Act, which was allowed to lapse unfunded. Meaningful infrastructure development requires years and sometimes decades of planning. Without a reliable long-term infrastructure vision, no real advancement or planning for infrastructure can take place. The difference between $1 trillion and $3 trillion is less important than passing something!
• Reflect the current state of technology … Enhanced broadband access and distributed renewable energy are replacing urban commuting and centralized fossil-fueled power. Allocations of infrastructure dollars should follow these megatrends, and should be targeted to those features that we wish to promote as a nation. A wise engineer at the Georgia Department of Transportation once said to me, “It makes no sense to widen roads just to get people to the gridlock faster.” Let’s take this opportunity to find a better way to get to our destination.
• and science. Whether you believe it is man-made or not, climate change and sea-level rise are real things that are affecting our core infrastructure and critical services. Ensuring that aging facilities and new infrastructure are (re-)engineered with resiliency and sustainability as key objectives, is paramount. Private financiers already ascribe so-called ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles. Permitting guidelines for accessing state and federal funds should do likewise.
• Harness willing private-sector capital and resources. Governments and their agencies have long relied upon the private sector for engineering and construction and other services in building and maintaining the infrastructure inventory. Utilizing private-sector capital and development tools gives states and municipalities greater flexibility and an immense lever for public (federal) monies, oftentimes helping governments preserve capital for new or future projects that otherwise would be unaffordable. Allowing private participation in public infrastructure, while providing proper public oversight and governance, should be a hallmark of any legislation.