How to address a major infrastructure concern in the US
The country’s infrastructure is vital to day-to-day operations, and frankly, no one would be able to survive without it. It’s how people travel and get around, how businesses transport goods and, most importantly, how everyone connects physically to the people and locations around them.
It’s no secret that the more it’s used, the more rapidly it can deteriorate, which is precisely why many highways and roads see regular repavings. While the streets are certainly important to repair, however, it’s the other forms of infrastructure that genuinely pose a threat.
Bridges, for example, can be incredibly dangerous when they’re not cared for properly. That’s true of both road-based and pedestrian-based bridges. Today, there are more than 178 million daily crossings made more than 47,000 bridges that are considered to be structurally deficient.
At the current rate of improvement for such infrastructure, it would take 80 years to fix all the deficient bridges in the nation. How can construction and technology step it up?
What Will It Take to Repair the Nation’s Bridges?
Even though so many bridges are in need of repairs, it’s not happening. It will take thousands of workers, just as many labor hours and exponentially more costs in resources to service the bridges. It’s a problem that’s growing more and more insurmountable by the day.
Funding on the federal and state level is severely lacking — even recent increases in the infrastructure budget have been outpaced by growing demand. To make matters worse, bridges aren’t the only type of infrastructure that needs servicing, so balancing available resources is another hurdle. Many states are already starting to see problems bubble to the surface.
Recently, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a concrete railing dislodged from an overpass, injuring someone. In March, the Mississippi DOT closed “at least 34 bridges” immediately following a public announcement after deeming them unsafe. Florida International University in Miami, FL, had one of its pedestrian bridges collapse, leaving six dead and nine injured.
These are just a few examples out of dozens of events happening all across the country, and it shows that action must be taken as soon as possible.
Evaluating the Scope of the Problem
First, there’s a need to understand the scope of the work. Doing so will call for extensive surveys and inspections to assess existing bridges and infrastructure. With the labor shortage and current industry demands, that’s going to be challenging to facilitate. Hopefully, low-cost and efficient solutions can be discovered.
Also, industry leaders will need to come up with a viable prioritization strategy. Some bridges are frailer than others, calling for immediate repairs as opposed to gradual updates. Assessing the level of disrepair and scheduling out revisions will be an integral part of the entire movement.
It will likely happen on an individual basis per county or state. Some states — like New Jersey — have already begun planning out extensive repairs.
Labor Concerns in the Bridge Construction Industry
It’s also critical to understand the impact of the construction labor shortage on our nation’s infrastructure. It’s evident that there are a lot of issues at hand, and they must be tackled before bridgework can be completed on a large scale.
That means the field needs to increase support, hopefully encouraging new candidates to join up. If there are not enough workers to get the job done, it puts a considerable damper on the entire system.
That problem is exacerbated when you have a whole industry starving for resources. If we follow the right steps, however, we just might see the repairs we need happen in a timely fashion.
How Innovation Can Help Our Bridges
Barring that, the field must find suitable alternatives to fill in the gaps. Robotics and automation hardware are a reasonable consideration, and many development companies are already experimenting with the technology.
Using drones to survey bridges and deteriorating structures is an excellent example. It would allow the work to be done remotely, efficiently and accurately. Perhaps most importantly, using drones would enable inexperienced workers to handle the on-site inspections with more knowledgeable professionals watching a video recording or stream in the background to provide additional insights.
It may also be necessary to get skilled designers and engineers involved. The goal would be to revise existing structures in innovative ways. For example, the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University was due to poor design — which means it could have been avoided altogether.
To prevent more accidents, it may be necessary to revisit the overall makeup of existing bridges, whether that means changing the layout or actual construction. By swapping out materials, employing more versatile designs and replacing decrepit structures entirely, we can make the nation’s bridge problem slowly evaporate.
Bridge Construction Is a National Priority
There’s no single solution to the need for improved infrastructure in the United States. With increased funding, labor improvements and increasing innovation, however, construction professionals and government officials alike can take meaningful steps to make our infrastructure safer and more durable over time.
Written by: Holly Welles, BOSS Contributor
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.