Broken infrastructure

An Opportunity to Connect

Feb. 4, 2021
In tackling our country's twin pandemic and economic crises, it's imperative that the new administration gets a handle on our longstanding infrastructure problem.

As the new year rounds into business and the new federal 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 had 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.

Yet the need for action in this area is intense. 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.

That was one of the points raised in our discussion about the look ahead to 2021 with NFPA president and CEO Eric Lanke. He noted the need for both optimism and caution.

“The infrastructure bill as described at this point has the potential to be great for fluid power technologies that serve construction, transportation, utilities and clean energy industries. It would prompt equipment purchases, which in turn would be good for business,” Lanke said, but added, “The challenge is to not be too optimistic in planning until we see the complete and final details when the bill passes…‘Infrastructure’ as a term can take on a broad meaning in certain contexts.”

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.”

About the Author

Bob Vavra | Senior Content Director, Power & Motion and Machine Design

Bob Vavra is the Senior Content Director of Power & Motion and its sister publication Machine Design. Vavra has had a long career in publishing, media and events. He has covered all aspects of manufacturing for the past 20 years and is a regular attendee at events such as IMTS and Hannover Messe. Vavra is also a sought-after webcast moderator and event emcee, and has presided over events in the U.S., Germany and China. 

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