American Infrastructure, Up Close
Got a camera?
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ “I Make America” campaign is sponsoring a photo contest called “Picture a Better America.” The idea is to encourage infrastructure investment by providing either visual evidence of problems with the American infrastructure, or photos of the people who are working to fix those problems—the people whose jobs depend on continued infrastructure investment.
There is a business intent behind the campaign, of course, and that is to increase the efforts to fix our roads and pipelines and bridges, and in the process to create more jobs for the people who use and make the equipment that will be used to rebuild or refurbish the infrastructure—AEM’s members, in other words. The campaign cites statistics such as “Every $1 billion invested in highways supports 27,823 jobs and generates $6.2 billion of economic activity.”
The objective of creating jobs aside, though, there is a powerful argument to be made for improving the infrastructure. As we’ve mentioned in the magazine before, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ periodic report card on the state of the country’s infrastructure shows an almost uniformly dismal state of affairs. The average grade across all infrastructure categories on the most recent report card, in 2009, was a D; the highest grade (for handling of solid waste) was no higher than a C-plus.
The ASCE estimates that we need to invest more than $2 trillion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years, that our actual spending will be more in the neighborhood of $903 billion, and that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will contribute just under $72 billion, leaving us with a whopping $1.176 trillion shortfall. (You can see the details, and the grades for each infrastructure category, at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org).
In an editorial a few years back (www.erosioncontrol.com/EC/Articles/Refurbishing_the_Infrastructure_935.aspx), I commented that, in spite of the mind-boggling estimates of what it will take to fix the problems, “the fact is that such things are never fixed all at once. Repairs occur in a piecemeal fashion”—either planned, or as the result of a sudden problem or failure—and are funded from many disparate sources. I suggested that looking at the total dollar amount needed wasn’t really a useful exercise. Since then, however, the ARRA has shown that it’s possible to attempt to tackle huge chunks of the problem at one time. (AEM disagrees, as its website makes clear, that the ARRA money has been spent effectively, and influencing how it’s spent is one of the campaign’s goals.)
Will the I Make America campaign make a difference? As with all such campaigns, one of its goals is to draw attention to the issue, and there are few better ways to do that than to get people involved. Almost everyone these days has access to a digital camera or a phone that can take pictures. What could be easier than snapping a few shots and sending them in online? And how better to make people focus—pun intended—on the issue than to have them literally compose a photo in a way that tells their own story? Those seem to me like the right elements to make the campaign very effective.
If you’d like to take a shot at the contest yourself, it’s open until August 12. Prizes include cash and trips to Washington, DC. You can find the details at http://photocontest.imakeamerica.com.
The unprecedented dust storm in Phoenix, AZ, occurred on July 5, just as we were going to press with this issue. Our design department quickly located a photo (by Daniel Bryant, on our cover) of the event, which reportedly spanned 50 miles and engulfed the downtown area and Sky Harbor airport. Although the thunderstorm to the south of Phoenix and the resulting downdrafts that caused the dust storm are not unusual, drought conditions in Arizona intensified their effect. The article on page 32 of this issue explores some techniques for handling dust of a more routine nature.
Author's Bio: Janice Kaspersen is the editor of Erosion Control magazine and Stormwater magazine.
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