Infrastructure and the Current Financial Situation

Infrastructure authorities around America are scrambling for funds in the wake of the current financial turmoil. The bond market is off limits to cities, states and other local governments, forcing authorities to make some tough choices…

Maine had already begun some of its road work when the bond markets stopped functioning, so now it is scrambling for bank loans to keep the dump trucks rolling. If money does not start flowing soon, Mr. Lenna said, Maine will have to cancel some of its road and bridge projects.

Under Strain, Cities Are Cutting Back Projects –

This compounds a massive issue of under funding for infrastructure projects in the first place, and the fact that billions of dollars are needed to bring North America into a position where a sustainable future is possible for more than a small percent of the population. » Infrastructure, the Economy: Hello! — They’re Linked!

The challenges are huge: Our once-vaunted interstate system is overwhelmed by traffic around major gateway cities and along truck corridors. Our metro regions lack public transit systems robust enough to tame oil consumption and sustain future growth. The nation has literally zero high-speed rail lines and may need four or more major new airports. Major East and West coastal ports have turned into huge bottlenecks and our national freight shipping network needs radical upgrading. Chronic traffic jams, lost time, higher driving and logistics costs can only get worse..

Infrastructure in an Energy Descent

[ad#200-left]Neither the financial nor infrastructure problems are going to go away any time soon. In my work, I have considered the problems of how to maintain the infrastructure in the city while ensuring that costs to the residents are maintained or minimized. In the future this may mean stripping asphalt from roads and returning to gravel surfaces, or even further down the energy descent path – abandoning parts of cities that have higher servicing demands for sewer and water, or road maintenance.

These are extremely unpopular concepts from where we sit today in 2008, that we would just abandon some areas of cities, or possibly entire cities as our over-reliance on energy goes critical. Today, I had a surreal experience in a Tim Horton’s, (that fine Canadian Doughnut establishment), where an elderly man displayed his extreme crabbiness at the fact that a junior sales assistant didn’t know the policy on coffee refills, and the store was extremely busy, so the manager didn’t attend to the situation immediately. I had a fleeting glimpse of how North America as a whole will react to a lack of products on shelves, fuel at the gas station, and generally anything that they determine to be part of their right to survive.

It’s not a comforting thought, seeing a world where infrastructure will be impossible to upkeep for so many reasons that could all collide at some point in the near future. I’ve tied two (or more) seemingly separate issues together in this post, are the readers comfortable with the assessment thus far?

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.