Resilient Infrastructure Could Save the U.S. Trillions in the Longrun

September 6, 2019 Matt Kennedy

The infrastructure of the United States and other countries around the world is essential for maintaining our quality of life. Yet, in low- to middle-income countries even in the U.S., the infrastructure has not been maintained. Thousands of bridges are in need of repair, dams are aging and collapsing, power grids are

deteroirating, and the inland waterways are old and failing. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the U.S. needs to spend $4.5 trillion by 2025 to fix the country's roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure. And in a 2017 Infrastructure Report Card conducted by the ASCE, U.S. infrastructure got a D+ grade. 

In the U.S. alone, there are about 56,000 structurally deficient bridges, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration. Out of the 614,387 American bridges, more than 200,000 are more than 50 years old. Power interruptions could become more widespread because of the mid-century transmission and distribution lines that are already exceeding their lifetime expectancy of 50 years. Over 15,000 dams are rated as high-hazard, meaning they are likely to fail … soon. And because of the state of the dams, traffic on the inland waterways is constantly delayed.

The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery created a report called “Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity” that defines the resilience of our infrastructure as the ability to function and meet users’ needs during and after a natural disaster. This report also identifies four essential components of a successful infrastructure system — power, water and sanitation, transport, and telecommunications. It’s vital that these four are the most resilient aspects of any infrastructure. 

According to the report, “Natural disasters, for instance, cause direct damages to power generation and transport infrastructure, costing about $18 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries. But the wider disruptions that they trigger on households and firms is an even bigger problem. Altogether, disruptions caused by natural hazards, as well as poor maintenance and mismanagement of infrastructure, costs households and firms at least $390 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries.”

Fortunately, the report offers five recommendations to ensure that infrastructure systems and their users become more resilient:

  1. Get the basics right. Tackling poor management and governance of infrastructure systems is key. For instance, a poorly-maintained infrastructure asset cannot be resilient.”
  2. Build institutions for resilience. Wider political economy challenges also need to be addressed, and critical infrastructure assets and systems need to be identified so that resources can be directed toward them.”
  3. Include resilience in regulations and incentives. Financial incentives can be used to ensure that the full social cost of infrastructure disruptions are accounted for, encouraging service providers to go beyond just meeting mandatory standards.”
  4. Improve decision making. Access to better data, tools, and skills could be a gamechanger in building resilience: for instance, digital elevation models for urban areas are not expensive and are critical to inform hundreds of billions of dollars in investments per year.”
  5. Provide financing. The right kind of financing at the right time is key. For instance, small amounts of resources can support regulators and be used at the early stages of infrastructure design compared to the billions needed to repair and recover in the aftermath of a disaster.”

U.S. President Donald Trump established an infrastructure budget knowing that without continued investment and maintenance, our country’s infrastructure will continue to age and deteriorate. The President has called upon Congress to pass legislation that generates at least $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The 2020 budget supports achieving this goal by: 

  1. Establishing a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill for long-term funding
  2. Working to invest in other infrastructure policies besides roads, such as water and energy 
  3. Investing $2 billion in the Rebuilding America program for large projects that relieve congestion
  4. Providing $1 billion for BUILD programs for surface transportation projects in urban and rural communities
  5. Giving additional funding for bridges and water infrastructure

As our industry receives government funds, it’s crucial that we work together to maximize investments with digital technology and make existing and new infrastructures more resilent for the years to come.

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