It’s Time To Get Smart About Infrastructure

Read the original article by Chris Turlica by Forbes.

It’s a running joke in Beltway circles that every week is Infrastructure Week, but while the Senate remains deadlocked over the next round of coronavirus stimulus spending, analysts believe that major infrastructure investments might be the key to putting the global economy back on track. Both U.S. presidential candidates have pledged to spend heavily on infrastructure, and industry groups are also calling for big investments in bridges, highways and other major infrastructure projects to spur a U.S. economic revival.

Such spending is long overdue. A third of Americans say roads in their neighborhoods badly need repairs, and half of rural roads are rated poor to fair. Put all 54,000 of our nation’s structurally deficient bridges end to end, and they’ll stretch from Manhattan to Miami Beach. At least 2,170 of our 15,500 high-hazard dams are dangerously deficient. And with 240,000 water-main breaks a year, we annually pour 2 trillion gallons of drinking water straight down the drain. 

Frankly, the state of America’s infrastructure is shocking. But therein lies the rub: With so much of our infrastructure in decay, how can we track all the work that needs to be done? At current rates of repair, it would take decades to patch up those deficient bridges — so where should we start, and which bridges should we repair first? Which structures merely need a coat of paint, and which ones need to be completely rebuilt? With vast sums at stake, how will we decide how the money gets spent?

To find the answer, look at the five-mile Mackinac suspension bridge between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Since 2016, researchers have installed scores of tiny wireless sensors on “Big Mac.” This year, they will fit thousands more. Powered by the vibrations of passing traffic, the sensors constantly gather information about traffic patterns, wind levels and the condition of the bridge itself, giving inspectors a torrent of invaluable data about the bridge’s safety and pinpointing exactly where and when repairs are needed...