Photo: Highlighting the importance of infrastructure issues, a New Orleans photo shows a drainage canal, levee, transmission line corridor, sidewalk, guard rail, and street all interacting within a tight geography. In time, our dependence on the reliability of infrastructure could be called into question.
Last Updated: October 28, 2022
Infrastructure issues should be at the center of our public dialogue, but since few people other than engineers are much interested in or aware of all the different components of our infrastructure, that's unlikely to happen.
In case you don't know, infrastructure means roads, bridges, utilities, tunnels, canals, and the other manmade, usually publicly funded, things we use to get around, move goods, carry information or communication, channel rain water or snow melt, or to deliver or share water, electricity, natural gas, and other utilities. Other people use the term more metaphorically for things like natural elements (so-called green infrastructure), or you may have heard about social infrastructure as well.
On this page we will give you the briefest of overviews of potential infrastructure issues you should be noticing in your own community. Our main purpose is to encourage you to ask questions about your local needs, which we will answer based on our experience as planners. Other readers too might chime in with advice and relevant experiences. You can see what others already have asked near the bottom of this page.
People in the so-called developing nations just really need road and telecommunications infrastructure, such as cell phone towers or telephone lines, for the first time. There is no possibility of earning outside money for the community unless one can get word of a new product to the neighboring village and unless there is a way to transport raw materials, agricultural commodities, or products to a seaport or airport.
Many visitors to our site, though, are concerned about aspects of infrastructure in the developed nations. In the U.S. the maintenance and repair of infrastructure has been neglected to our peril. Somehow it just seems more interesting to the American imagination to build new roads and bridges than to maintain and upgrade the ones we have, and our budget priorities show it.
Only a few of you worry about everything, including how to finance and handle the logistics of replacing all of the aging infrastructure that is in place in the developed nations. Building new facilities is so much more exciting to the political class.
Indeed, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted into law in 2021 was the first comprehensive infrastructure spending program to earn Congressional approval in many years. Yes, the highway lobby succeeds in renewing transportation bills every time they threaten to expire, but there the bias is toward new construction rather than maintenance and upgrading.
Many infrastructure needs can only be addressed at the local government level or through metropolitan-scale investments by private utilities. Every local government I've worked for has struggled to keep up with potholes, the need to redesign poor intersections, bridges that threaten to fall down or actually do so, aging water lines or sewers, or simply inadequate supply to address the needs of a growing population.
Sometimes there is a perceived deficiency because particular facilities were not considered important during the era when a suburb was built. Sidewalks tend not to be present in subdivisions developed in the 1970s and 1980s, for instance.
Or certainly 30 years ago no one was concerned about the lack of high-speed internet for all neighborhoods in the city and for businesses.
We tend to place blind faith in our levees and bridges, however. Since the specialized knowledge that goes into their design and construction eludes us, we prefer to see them as invincible. Of course, the highway bridge collapse in Minnesota, as well as other incidents worldwide, means that we cannot remain forever in denial about these important links in the system. When a hurricane wrecks the only bridge to Sanibel Island, we have renewed focus on how much we are relying on our infrastructure working properly.
Sidewalks and bicycle lanes, tracks, and boulevards are moving up the priority list as the emphasis on livable places gains more momentum. A corresponding decrease in faith in highways and large capacity roads is occurring in some city halls and highway departments.
Broadband has become a mainstream technology available to communities or neighborhoods in cities, and it is among the first utilities to be distributed through the air and not on the basis of a linear wire or pipe. You should have questions about the community repercussions of this technology, but we haven't seen any yet.
That brings us to why we're here. Don't you have a question about infrastructure issues that you have been dying to ask? You can do that by taking advantage of the invitation form below, remaining anonymous if you wish.
Over time we hope there will be an interesting body of questions and answers in this category. We hope it will blend the concerns of those who never have enjoyed the luxury of a particular type of infrastructure with replacement concerns on the part of those who need to rebuild due to aging facilities or to natural disasters.
Would you like to ask the other visitors and/or the editors a question? Here's your place to ask and then watch for answers and comments.
Click below to see contributions from other visitors, and answers.
When a bicycle trail must cross a major road
Visitor Question: Our group of cycling enthusiasts is pressuring our city government to extend a popular bicycle trail for some two miles to a popular …
How to get our city to fix the sidewalks
Visitor Question: One of the best virtues of my hometown is that it is very easy to walk to stores, restaurants, bars, and all kinds of services. It's …
Dissolved Village District; What's next?
Our Village District, located in Campton,NH, was recently dissolved by the county. There was no-longer any interest by enough residents to legally operate …
Infrastructure and Subdivisions
Does the infrastructure have to be installed before lots can be sold in a subdivision? Editor's Reply: The answer depends on your state law, but …