With the new presidential administration coming into the White House, will this be the year of advancing infrastructure? Will there be a diversified trillion dollar infrastructure project to jumpstart the economy as well as fill your schedules and your wallets?
The promise to rebuild the U.S. infrastructure is a tall order that has many experts looking at rebuilding highways, railroads, airports, and structural infrastructure like docks, locks, bridges and dams.
What about the other layers of infrastructure? Should they also include projects for power and energy infrastructure? What about expanding broadband connectivity to urban areas and commercial building complexes? These layers, the intelligent infrastructure, need to have their fair share of projects as well.
Where should the trillion dollars go?
A trillion dollars of funding sounds like a lot of money, but if we look at many projects and problems across the country, we can go through that trillion dollars fairly quickly. To be fair, my belief is that all layers of infrastructure should have access to this fund, not just roads, bridges, and railroads.
We need to think about where we get the biggest bang for our buck. We need to look at job creation and its impact to a specific region (immediate benefit—jobs in the construction phase). We also need to measure and define projects that will have a lasting impact on a certain area or region (residual benefit—jobs created to maintain the infrastructure as well as the residual impact to regional economic development and sustainability). How do we prioritize projects so that we impact cities, states and regions (multi-state)? What layer(s) of infrastructure should we concentrate on?
This funding inititiative cannot go the way of the lobbyists. We need to make sure our crumbling infrastructure gets fixed across the board at all levels, not just two or three levels because they have a better lobbyist group.
All of these questions are relevant and should be contemplated at the highest levels. Spending a trillion dollars on many projects across the country should add a lot to the strength of the infrastructure and sustain regional economic viability.
Some people think roads, bridges and railroads are the total amount of layers of infrastructure out there and want the funding to be spent on these areas alone. By now, after reading my column for a year, you know that the platform for commerce (infrastructure) includes many more layers than those three. Airports, power grid, communication networks, ports, dams, locks and docks are all valid layers of the infrastructure (the platform for commerce).
We also need to measure and define residual benefit to look at projects that may benefit a city, a state, or a whole region for years after the completion of the construction phase. In the “operational phase” where you are actually using the infrastructure, that could be another 20–100 years of benefits and economic sustainability.
Improving the Mississippi River’s economic highway
The Mississippi River eco-system generates over $400 billion of commerce a year and supplies over 1.3 million jobs. Most do not appreciate the enormity of this long-time part of the economy. We need to revisit all of the components making up that “economic highway” and see where we can modernize it. This would include resizing the locks and improving all the power (and electrical systems) to drive the locks.
The last time they were designed and built, barges were of a certain size and the locks were designed to accommodate them. Today, with more efficient approaches and barges being tied together with one tugboat pushing them, the bottleneck on the Mississippi River is when they come to a lock and they need to take apart the nine barges and push them through the lock one at a time. This really impacts the speed of movement of product that still gets shipped down the Mississippi. Most people don’t think about that, but it is a huge amount of yearly commerce (over $400 billion) that many states along the Mississippi depend on. Modernizing the locks and making them bigger to accommodate multi-barge “convoys” would add a huge economic driver to existing business. This is just one project of many. If this improves throughput by only 10 percent, that is another $40 billion dollars of economic growth annually that we do not have today.
The need for redundancy equals new opportunities
As I wrote in last month’s column, “More corporate applications are becoming mission critical. That means there cannot be any ‘single point-of-failure’ within any information network. When you look at the vast majority of buildings, most are using a single network route to the central office for all their traffic.”
More commercial buildings need to have redundant sources for both power and network connectivity. Single connections for power and telecommunications were established back in the horse-and-buggy days. They are both obsolete rules of thumb.
Between funding the Mississippi River expansion project and the retrofitting of commercial buildings in 20 major cities to accommodate mission critical applications by upgrading them to have redundant power feeds and redundant network infrastructure feeds, I believe this would be a great set of real projects to get America working again and upgrading many diverse levels of the infrastructure to support more of the 21st century economy.