If you have recently heard renewed interest in discussing the state of infrastructure in the U.S., you are not alone. The infrastructure of the U.S. is stretched dangerously thin, and is lagging behind many global competitors. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association reports that out of 231,000 American bridges, one-third of them need to be replaced because they are structurally unsound. One such bridge is here in Memphis, TN, and it hits close to home for MCR Safety's headquarters. On May 12, 2021, a crack was found in the below bridge's steel beams, causing an immediate shutdown. The bridge is anticipated to be closed for months, crippling passage across one of the U.S.' leading supply chain arteries.
The Hernando de Soto Interstate 40 Bridge connecting West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee
There are several approaches to solving the current infrastructure crisis, but one of the most anticipated strategies will be the ambitious $2 trillion plan that the Biden administration has announced.
This article will highlight what infrastructure is, what types of infrastructure exist, and what the new $2 trillion plan proposes regarding building and maintaining our country's infrastructure. We also highlight the safety gear workers will need to construct the new infrastructure being proposed and repair the existing infrastructure.
What is infrastructure? Infrastructure is a broadly applied term covering any physical system of a business, region, or nation. Infrastructure projects are expensive and wide-reaching, and they are vital to a nation's economy. A helpful way to think about infrastructure is by seeing it as the physical framework that a society is built upon and recognizing how it plays a crucial role in shaping a nation's success.
Workers at the Hoover Dam site in 1934, a significant public works project of The New Deal.
At the core of Ancient Rome's achievements was a vast and complex network of infrastructure and public works projects. As historian Strabo wrote, "The Romans take great care of three things above any other, which the Greeks neglected. That is: opening roads, building aqueducts, and sending the residue underground into sewers." Roads, dams, barracks, public baths and toilets, water ports, and numerous other structures shaped the Roman landscape for thousands of years.
In more recent years, infrastructure has been addressed by government programs like The New Deal, which was implemented by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) during the 1930s to combat the effects of the Great Depression. His programs built new dams, post offices, overpasses, schools, public roads, and parks through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It put people to work and built America's infrastructure backbone to grow the economy.
U.S. Interstate System
Then, in 1956, as we highlight on our Road Construction page, President Eisenhower created the largest U.S. infrastructure project when he signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The new interstate system built miles of roads linking cities, businesses, and communities to one another.Both examples from the 20th century highlight how U.S, infrastructure projects have played critical roles in shaping the landscape.
Many of the projects developed and constructed under FDR's New Deal and Eisenhower's interstate project are some of the very pieces of infrastructure needing to be repaired and replaced in our modern times.
Types of Infrastructure
"Infrastructure" covers a wide variety of elements. Generally speaking, it can include everything from transportation systems to communication networks and structures that provide people with water, electricity, sewage, and waste disposal. Some construction companies work exclusively in infrastructure development, and there are specialties within each area: roads, bridges, airports, railroads, waste management, water, power, and more.
To understand the scope of infrastructure, let's review some of the broad categories where civil engineering, construction, and infrastructure intersect.
- Airports: Airport design must include terminals, taxi space, air traffic control, baggage systems, runways, and parking, all within the confines of federal aviation guidelines and often in a limited amount of space.
- Broadband: The term "broadband" can refer to telecommunications and internet usage. Broadband infrastructure includes coaxial cable, optical fiber, radio, twisted pair, and high-speed internet access.
- Dams: Without dams, our hydroelectric power supply would be essentially non-existent.
- Energy: Our energy infrastructure generates, regulates, and distributes electricity to our homes, businesses, hospitals, and more.
- Hazardous Waste: Hazardous waste is a byproduct of countless industries, which means that safely and effectively disposing of this waste is a necessary part of our infrastructure.
- Inland Waterways: Our rivers play a vital role in shipping, manufacturing, and transportation. The "water highway" must be protected and maintained.
- Levees: Levees can be artificial or natural, but they protect our communities from flooding and help regulate the flow rate in our waterways.
- Public Parks: Public parks are administered locally, but many are funded federally. Park usage is growing annually, and parks and open spaces are essential to the community's economic development.
- Ports: Port infrastructure provides a system for vessels, cargo, and passengers to travel through ports.
- Roads: Even though our roads are essential for moving people and goods through the nation, over 40% of our road system is mediocre and requires infrastructure improvements.
- Schools: The most prominent national investment in infrastructure every year goes to school facilities. More than 53% of public school districts require significant updates, including replacing buildings.
- Smart: One of the newest forms of infrastructure, this system connects the different domains of energy systems, buildings, and industries through comprehensive smart grids.
- Solid Waste: With over 260 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) produced annually, the U.S. must manage landfills, recycling centers, composting, and energy production.
- Stormwater: systems include storm sewers, ditches, flood control reservoirs, rain gardens, and natural river systems. Stormwater management problems and infrastructure failures cause $9 billion in damages every year.
- Wastewater: flows across 800,000 miles of public sewer lines. Wastewater output is growing annually, and large-scale capital investments are needed to continue to manage wastewater.
Current Projects for Critical Infrastructure
What are some of the pending infrastructure projects? There are many, and the question is where to start? Infrastructure projects require large amounts of capital, and they play a massive role in overall economic development. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) refers to some projects as "Infrastructure Gamechangers" because they are such large projects that they will have a significant economic impact on states, regions, or the whole nation.
Some of these projects are ongoing, while others are newly announced or planned. Here are some of the projects identified by the ASCE as the newest game-changers:
- Amtrak Acela Fleet – Designed to carry 25% more passengers than the current fleet while using 20% less energy, this new fleet will transform the train experience on the Northeast Corridor.
- Hillsboro In-Pipe Hydroelectric – The project converts excess water pressure into carbon-free electricity. It will generate between 185,000 to 200,000 kWh of electricity per year when up and running!
- Concrete Sensors – The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is working with Purdue University on installing new sensors that will help the agency understand the development process of concrete. These devices will provide valuable information for how soon a road can be safely used after being poured and when the concrete needs to be replaced.
Some nations have better infrastructure than others, and some states within the U.S. are in better shape than others. Smoothly-functioning infrastructure is an excellent measuring tape for the health of a society and an economy. Substantial, efficient, well-functioning infrastructure improves the lives of a country's citizens and provides more opportunities for economic growth.
Top 5 Nations
Statista, a website with over 1,000,000 statistics on 170 industries, ranks nations based on the quality of their infrastructure. Calculations are based on fourteen different areas: road connectivity, road quality, railroads, train services, airport connectivity, air transport services, linear shipping, seaport services, electrification rate, electric power transmission and distribution, unsafe drinking water, and water supply.
The top 5 nations with the strongest infrastructures from 2019, as rated by Statista, are:
- Hong Kong
The U.S. ranks 13th overall in most major infrastructure measurement tools.
Top 5 States
U.S. News and World Report analyzes infrastructure state-by-state. They identify renewable energy and the quality of roads and bridges as the significant elements for placement on the list.
The top 5 states are:
- North Dakota
Roads & Ports
By paying close attention to roads and ports, we can evaluate some specific aspects of infrastructure.
The top nations for ports are:
- Hong Kong
The U.S. ranks 10th.
The top nations for roads are:
- Hong Kong
The U.S. is 17th.
2 Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Plan
A new infrastructure plan will hopefully lead to the U.S. rising in the world rankings shown above. The White House proposed, on March 31, 2021, a $2 trillion plan to address infrastructure needs in the United States. The press release stated that the country's roads, bridges, and water systems were all crumbling due to disinvestment over the years. The new plan aims to address that.
It's tough to grasp how much $2 trillion is. Think of it this way, $1 trillion in $1 dollar bills would reach the moon if stacked on top of one another. That's a lot of money being proposed to go into infrastructure.
What will this plan include? Let's take a look:
- $100 billion – infrastructure resiliency
- $111 billion – clean and safe drinking water
- $100 billion - high-speed broadband infrastructure
- $100 billion - electric transmission resiliency and power generation
- $165 billion – schools and learning facilities, as well as V.A. hospitals and other federal buildings
- $213 billion - two million homes and commercial buildings for the housing crisis
- $480 billion – modern manufacturing and training
- $621 billion - transportation infrastructure
One thing is sure regarding infrastructure spending: people will need protection when they get to work revitalizing and repairing America's infrastructure. At MCR Safety, our specialty is protecting workers who perform all types of construction-related activities. From safety glasses to stop debris from hitting one's eyes to leather work gloves designed to keep hands protected from abrasive objects, MCR Safety has an entire lineup of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to keep workers safe on the job.
Our entire construction industry home page can be found by clicking the image below. Many of the hazards workers will encounter when working on new infrastructure projects are addressed across the construction sub-industries.
What is "green" infrastructure?
What is America's infrastructure?
- According to infrastructurereportcard.org, infrastructure refers to roads, parks, bridges, and numerous other elements we've highlighted above. Each piece of infrastructure supports the overall economic engine, impacting every American's quality of life.
What is digital infrastructure?
- Digital infrastructure is a form of infrastructure that forms the foundation of an organization or nation's information technology and operations, from data storage to communication.
Protecting Key Workers around Key Public Projects
FDR once said, "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." His words of encouragement live on with us today, especially within the realm of infrastructure.
At MCR Safety, we are here to diminish the fear workers have when encountering workplace hazards during any new infrastructure project. We do this by providing PPE that helps them make it back home in one piece. If you have any concerns that you may be wearing the wrong safety gear at work, get in touch with us and let us guide you to the right PPE for your job and the hazards you face.
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We welcome any comments, feedback, or suggestions for how we can best protect people at work.
For over 45 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a world leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it's building and repairing infrastructure, an oil rig, a construction site, or shooting outdoors, we are there to provide solutions to workplace (and recreational) hazards. It's all part of our commitment to protect people.
No matter your industry, we have the personal protective equipment you need.
Learn more about MCR Safety by checking out our most recent video. For more information, browse our website, request a catalog, find a distributor, or give us a call at 800-955-6887.