It's the Environment, Stupid.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Infrastructure Failure in America

America's infrastructure is aging. More and more people, sprawling development, and the accompanying traffic are burdening the Army Corps of Engineer's boom (and related developments) of the mid to late 20th century. Now, with ever rising costs and reduced funding/taxes for public projects, compromises and trade-offs are made and only the things in worst shape are attended to.

Evidence of this is all over the place - power grid problems and blackouts, the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the steam pipe explosion in New York, the levee breach in New Orleans.

Unfortunately the blame falls on the agency responsible for infrastructure upkeep. Very rarely are the fingers pointed in the direction of politicians or government officials who make the money decisions and choose what gets funded.

Using NYC as an example - utility company Consolidated Edison has become the scape goat for an aging infrastructure over a century old.

Last summer they took the heat for power blackouts in Queens that lasted over a week in some areas, which created a pocket of very angry residents and business owners. Even the mayor stepped up and shifted any blame off of himself onto ConEd.

Now the utility company is under fire again for a steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan a few weeks back. There was a helluva storm that morning, wreaking havoc on the subway and just about everything else.

To ConEd's credit, the New York Times reported that ConEd checked the area where the pipe blew earlier that same day, with nothing to indicate it would fail hours later. After the damage was assessed, ConEd requested that people who were sprayed by the blast to turn in their clothes and accessories for reimbursement, since there was asbestos was found in the muddy debris.

Weeks later the big question still circulating throughout the papers is, "how could ConEd let something like this happen?" However, the question really should be, "what is the city's plan for upgrading its infrastructure for the next century?"

That said, I don't want to undermine the tragedy of these infrastructure failures. Lives have been lost, and many have been injured. There has also been property damage with financial repercussions. This only strengthens the need to re-prioritize spending and put money into preventive maintenance, in addition to infrastructure upgrades to avoid future catastrophes.

With a burgeoning population of upwards of eight million people, New York City will need a bit more than some pretty, new buildings and hybrid taxis if it intends to remain a top player in the global economy.


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