Infrastructure is due for some massive improvements over the next few years. As one of the core aspects of a country’s foundation, infrastructure progress will leave significant and bold impacts that can give desirable outcomes for people who live and visit the U.S.
With this in mind, the Impact Public Service Fund (IPSF) held the Impact: Infrastructure meeting last November 14, 2017 in New York City. “An economy that works is one that builds tomorrow’s infrastructure today,” said John Porcari, “not lives on yesterday’s infrastructure.” Porcari, President of the United States advisory services at WSP USA, one of the world’s leading engineering professional services firms, is one of the many attendees of ImpactNYC’s research dinner.
Impact, as a non-profit and non-partisan organization, has dedicated themselves to not only understand many of today’s pressing issues, but also coming to provide solutions and actions that help towards one goal: progress.
Infrastructure for a Better Future
Infrastructure takes a long time to develop, as compared to other resources that are almost always readily available. As such, there is a need for long-term plans, which are needed for progress especially in terms of moving up in technology.
During a summit held on January 18, 2018, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tom Donohue mentioned how U.S. infrastructure is approximately 25 years behind, and fixing that would take maybe as much as 40 years. The White House has yet to finalize its long-awaited infrastructure plan.
Recent developments like autonomous vehicles are coming to fruition, and many companies all over the U.S. are on board. “There’s some really, really smart people spending a lot of money to develop autonomous (cars),” noted Malcom Bricklin, founder of Subaru of America. “It’s much closer than people think, and it’s gonna change our world as we know it.”
In addition to Porcari and Bricklin, other attendees of the Impact: Infrastructure event were: David Agnew, Managing Director of Macquarie; David Strickland, Partner of Venable; Drew McElroy, CEO of Transfix.io; Mike Kopko, Vice President of Oscar Health Insurance; Nic Poulos, Partner at Bowery Capital; Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of NYC Department of Transportation; Tim Hwang, Founder and CEO of Fiscal Note; and Trevor D’Olier-Lees, Senior Director at Standard & Poor’s.
Although these people are all from different companies and sectors, they have one common goal: to fix the underlying infrastructure problems affecting not just the city of New York, but the rest of the country as well. Together, they discussed many issues, including the role of the government in coordinating innovation, as well as the cooperation between technologies presented by smart cities, driverless vehicles, and artificial intelligence, among others.
They recognized the role of companies and people such as Elon Musk, Uber, Waymo, and many other private organizations in helping cities reinvent themselves towards tech-centered and improved versions of themselves. Reshaping a city involves both private and public assets, and their future is up to the next generation’s valuation of such assets. However, the current generation still needs to address pressing issues such as traffic congestion, infrastructure safety and security, and the pros and cons of having both public and private entities (at present, they go through bidding systems).
Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce believes it may take 40 years for a nationwide infrastructure project to be complete. “An infrastructure bill is only the beginning,” he said.
Based on a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), major infrastructure systems in the U.S. can be broken down into two categories: connectivity and resource distribution. On one hand, connectivity refers to fields which focus on creating and continuing human interaction, including expediting supply chains and logistics. On the other hand, resource distribution is infrastructure spanning the entirety of the supply chain for a specific resource.
Right now, connectivity can be classified under aviation, ports, roads, and mass transit. Interestingly, it’s not just physical connectivity – the internet is also under this category. Some of the top Internet service providers (ISPs) throughout the country include Comcast, Cox, and A&T, among others. Throughout the country, as of 2011, most households have broadband connections, with at least 21 states having 72% or more households with broadband.
As far as resource distribution is concerned, energy consumption has been mostly stable, with a slightly upward course. Compared to the 1900s, the use of petroleum, natural gas, and coal have shot up significantly by 2015. Following are nuclear and biomass energy, other renewables, and hydroelectricity, which are not as widely used in recent years.
The U.S. is the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of electricity. With that, experts predict that because fossil fuels are finite, gas and oil will eventually run out within 50 years. In addition, they also predict coal may run out within the next 100 years as well.
Another pressing issue in resource distribution is drinking water. While the earth is made up of about 71% water, not all of it is potable for human intake. This network of pipes that supply the earth’s drinking water has only an estimated lifespan of about 100 years, so updating this network is of utmost importance as well.
The Impact: Infrastructure event helped look at these developmental priorities. As one of the key enablers of growth distribution and workforce engagement, they saw that roads, public transit, and energy systems are top priority. They see the trend of private sectors leading infrastructure renewal from the ground up. As a matter of fact, communities within 25 states voted on measures that would help provide a collective $200 billion in transit back in 2016. About 75% of these measures have passed on through to the implementation stage, which is a great statistic considering the enormity of the scope.
With so much help coming in from the private sector, it is still a long way to go for infrastructure improvement. Thankfully, there are also many government-driven considerations when it comes to long-term solutions and planning.
With many bold ideas coming in from both private and public groups and investors, projects and funding have a positive future as long as the people in charge keep the focus clear. When these implementations finally push through, there is a more efficient and safe environment for everyone, including future generations.