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Eric McDonald, Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development, NextEnergy

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE’s) 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives the nation a C- for its roads, bridges, railways, schools, dams, water and sewer systems, and energy systems.1 The most recent state-level report card from 2018 gave Michigan’s infrastructure a D+.2 The ASCE report card defines a C as “mediocre, requires attention,” and a D as “poor, at risk.”3 No B’s (defined as “good, adequate for now”) were awarded to any category within either the national or state report card. All our infrastructure was rated at a C or lower. Trying to outlast the problem will only increase the cost for future generations to fix the compounding deterioration.

In August, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.4 It’s now up to the House of Representatives to pass it. Sound infrastructure is needed to maintain and improve the economy. A trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure will add thousands of well-paying jobs and jumpstart further economic investment.5 It’s important to integrate new technologies in infrastructure investments. These technologies will make infrastructure safer and more energy efficient.

We are already seeing infrastructure upgrades in the mobility sector. Auto manufacturers are creating future-facing vehicles equipped with sensors making for safer operation, autonomous driving modes and a move toward electric powered drivetrains. Roads need to be constructed to complement the new vehicles. Infrastructure upgrades will need to be “smart.” New infrastructure will not be just concrete and steel. New infrastructure will be bits and bytes, it will be connected as part of smart cities and smart grids. You will see an alphabet soup of terms to accompany the new road-related technologies:

DSRC: dedicated short-range communication
V2I: vehicle to infrastructure
V2V: vehicle to vehicle
V2G: vehicle to grid
IVHS: intelligent vehicle highway system
CAS: collision avoidance system
PDS: pedestrian detection system
• And many more

The technologies will enable vehicles to wirelessly communicate, making possible collision avoidance, geographic locating, vehicle routing, electric vehicle charging, and vehicle to electric grid demand response among other capabilities.

automated vehicle stopping for pedestrians

The move to decrease and eventually eliminate carbon-based fuel sources and other products is likely inevitable.6 Decarbonization may be mandated by government codes and standards, but private industry hasn’t waited for a government mandate. We are seeing an increasing number of companies decarbonizing their operations. Utilities, auto manufacturers, and even oil production and exploration companies are committing to eliminating production and by-production of CO2 and other greenhouses gases in the next 30 years.7

There will be increased demand for electrification of industry sectors. Governments around the world are moving towards mandating electrification of the built environment. Codes and standards are evolving, leading to elimination of carbon emissions from buildings and other infrastructure. Building owners and designers are embracing building electrification and decarbonization.

The move to decarbonize will place an increased demand on electricity and will force the elimination of coal, petroleum products, and natural gas as fuel sources for electricity generation. Alternative sources will be required for electricity generation.

The electrical grid is in serious need of upgrading. More than two-thirds of power transformers and transmission lines are over 25 years old. Electrification will place an increased demand on improving the electrical infrastructure, a need to modernize, and a need to increase generation and transmission capacity.

Attention must be given to the country’s aging infrastructure. Failure to act on infrastructure upgrades will have ripple effects throughout neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and the world. Economies may slow down and possibly stagnate as poor infrastructure increasingly has a negative impact on access and movement. There needs to be a concentrated effort to modernize and maintain our infrastructure to move our state and country forward. We can’t afford a failing grade on this test.

Article Sources

1American Society of Civil Engineers. March 3, 2021. “2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” American Society of Civil Engineers. Accessed September 20, 2021. https://infrastructurereportcard.org/

2Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. 2018. “2018 Michigan Infrastructure Report Card.” American Society of Civil Engineers. Accessed September 20, 2021. https://infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/michigan/

3American Society of Civil Engineers. March 3, 2021. “Making the Grade.” American Society of Civil Engineers. Accessed September 21, 2021. https://infrastructurereportcard.org/making-the-grade/

4Zaslav, Ali, and Clare Foran. August 10, 2021. “Senate Passes $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill After Months of Intense Bipartisan Talks.” CNN. Accessed September 21, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/10/politics/bipartisan-plan-infrastructure-vote-congress/index.html

5Cohen, Mikaela. August 6, 2021. “Biden Infrastructure Bill Has Big Business Backing. Here Is How Small Business Feels.” CNBC. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/06/big-business-likes-biden-infrastructure-bill-and-small-business-.html

6Terrapass. n.d. “Decarbonization 101: What It Is and Why It Matters.” Terrapass. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://terrapass.com/blog/decarbonization-101-what-it-is

7Morgan, Blake. August 26, 2019. “101 Companies Committed to Reducing Their Carbon Footprint.” Forbes. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2019/08/26/101-companies-committed-to-reducing-their-carbon-footprint/?sh=1d6257a9260b

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