Binanry code on the road

The First Order of Business

Feb. 1, 2021
Before the Biden administration can effectively grapple with our nation's economic and pandemic-related challenges, it needs to address the longstanding problem of our aging infrastructure.

As the new administration settles into its work, there is no illusion about the many tasks that quickly must be dealt with. Two of the most discussed areas of attention will be to prop up the nation’s financial infrastructure and the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution infrastructure.

For either of those to succeed, though, the first order of business should be to repair and restore the nation’s actual infrastructure. The appalling condition of the nation’s roads, bridges and utilities has been for decades a source of frustration tinged with the fear of what might happen if the infrastructure network began to fail all at once.

This cannot be simply a federal initiative, though the proposals around infrastructure improvement must begin with bold strokes from Congress and the White House. The last major initiative was when Washington passed the when the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956. In the 65 years that have passed, the system has been maintained, but that effort has failed to keep up with a booming population, the proliferation of heavy vehicles and the emergence of a decentralized distribution system. Anyone who has had packages delivered to their home during the pandemic understands the value of this system; not everyone may appreciate the pressure this has put on our roadways.

But if our transportation superhighways have felt the strain, so too have our information superhighways. The pandemic has shown our weaknesses in this now-vital infrastructure link. Any legislation has to address inequities in the availability of internet access for both urban and rural consumers.

Design engineers have a critical role to play in developing solutions to address this desperate need.  We need more than a single bandage to fix infrastructure. We need the bold ideas that help not just repair the system but improve it. We must find ways to future-proof our infrastructure to make it more efficient, safer and able to address the emerging use of alternative fuel vehicles and autonomous driving.

There is one more benefit to this infrastructure initiative that cannot be overlooked. While stimulus checks were one way to provide help to a nation struggling with the economics of the pandemic, a commitment to a massive infrastructure initiative creates sustainable jobs in a way no mere check can ensure. The scope of the infrastructure issue means that the jobs created will provide a longer-term economic boost. That will be good for all of us.

When we rebuild our infrastructure, we will build something that can better connect us. It will the physical embodiment of the Constitution’s goal: “a more perfect union.”

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