23 Apr 2009 7:27 am   //   Filed under: In the news, Stray data

This place is falling apart

All over my neighborhood, workers are tearing up streets to replace pipes and do work on other utilities. I have only a vague idea of what’s going on—they look like water pipes to me—but I take relief knowing there is some work going on to fix our infrastructure.

Infrastructure repair is a classic example of something important but not interesting.

You’ve heard politicians talk about it and you’ve read news stories about it. But are you really excited about infrastructure? Repairs are slow, expensive and often invisible. A project like the Hoover Dam and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge only comes along once in a while. Most such work is more like Water Tunnel 3—a $6 billion project you’ll never even notice. Yet the way we live demands electricity, running water, roads, data cables, and so on. These aren’t systems you can build once and let ride. You have to keep paying for them.

And if you don’t pay? Single failures can have an impact way out of proportion to the initial problem (like the 2003 blackout) or kill people (the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis). If you’ve ever traveled in a developing country, you know what a difference it makes when things don’t work. Here in the U.S., we’ve had it good for a long time. But too many of the systems on which we depend are old, stressed, patchwork, unfinished, or in need of repair. We have to spend the money.