March 2018 Vol. 73 No. 3

Editor's Log

Infrastructure Investment - a New Buzzword

Robert Carpenter Underground Constructionby Robert Carpenter Editor-in-Chief

buzz·word – a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.

From year to year, decade to decade, new buzzwords develop unexpectedly, unpredictably and inexplicably. While I certainly have – and will – use these fashionable new nouns as descriptors when appropriate, I hope my command of the English language guides me away from overuse of such terms.

Unfortunately, my industry experiences reveal that business personnel are some of the worst over-users of buzzwords. For example, an extremely popular buzzword for the past few years is “bandwidth” and that term drives me nuts. I’ve been asked about my bandwidth overload ad nauseam.

“Outside the box” is another overused buzzword that has been around for decades. People took the meaning of the term to extremes. Some of the ideas that had been formulated “outside the box” were nothing short of bizarre and wild. It’s fine to have bold and unique ideas, but if you can’t connect those thoughts to the real world inside “the box,” then those bold and unique concepts are worthless.

These days, across the nation – even around the world – the term “infrastructure investment” is being universally applied as an essential and critical component to our current and future comfortable, healthy lifestyles. Indeed, the term has reached virtual buzzword status with the national media and general public. And that’s a good thing, a fantastic development.

Long before infrastructure became an important talking point during the 2016 presidential debates, the poor state of America’s infrastructure has slowly made its way into public awareness. Unfortunate accidents like the Interstate 35 bridge collapse, rough and eternally patched highways, run-down and undersized airports – all highlighted the deficits of aboveground infrastructure. Underground infrastructure was largely ignored by politicians and the public, but then that’s not unusual. At least infrastructure was growing in the national awareness and, on occasion, underground was cited as well.

Next up in the wave of infrastructure issues and disasters was the formation of sinkholes occurring with amazing frequency compared to historical precedent. The culprit most often was leaking or failed pipes scouring soils away and ultimately leading to the formation of small to huge sinkholes. Even when a sinkhole was probably caused by a natural phenomenon, I was hoping that somehow broken pipes could be connected as a possible cause, lending further credence to the theory that a disaster was in the making if the country didn’t address its failing underground infrastructure in an expeditious manner.

A major disaster did strike in Michigan, with the lead pipe poisoning in Flint, MI. It also proved to be a public relations nightmare for the public works and regulatory personnel of Michigan and the EPA, who were complicit in faulty decision making that led to the horrible incident. Perhaps the only good thing to come out of all the Flint hysteria and finger pointing, was a much elevated public and political awareness of the dangers of ignoring the underground infrastructure. (Of course, if Flint personnel would have followed their civil engineer’s advice, the incident probably would never have developed.)

Now, President Trump, in the second year of his term, has turned to another of his promised platform topics: investing in America’s infrastructure. His proposal hopes to use $200 billion in direct federal money to combine with local/state-generated funding, along with leveraging private investment. Naturally, everyone in the political arena has a problem with the plan and alternatives are flowing forth from the Washington, D.C. area. But the takeaway here is that, at least, serious discussions underway.

Two obvious challenges emerge from all this infrastructure investment chatter. Our varied markets have to step up and aggressively elevate “underground infrastructure investment” into the buzzword category as well. We have to make sure no discussion of infrastructure omits underground considerations. That’s no small feat, but nonetheless, the opportunity presents itself and must be pursued.

Further, industry must simply keep the buzzword alive. We can’t afford to allow “infrastructure investment” to fade, like buzzwords tend to do with time. Unity among infrastructure groups is desperately needed to force continued attention and focus upon the despicable plight of America’s infrastructure, particularly the underground. We must not allow infrastructure investment to be taken for granted or to become an overused and even misused phrase. Infrastructure investment, especially underground infrastructure investment, are terms of such magnitude and significance, that they must never fade away.

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