Twenty-five years ago, the United States was thought to have the best infrastructure in the world, but that’s no longer true. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ report card on the state of American infrastructure gave us a D-plus.
We are relying on aging infrastructures that in some cases are over 100 years old. Most of our power grid was built before the Internet was invented. Not only do we struggle to sustain today’s population, but handling the expected growth over the next 20 years will be next to impossible with our current systems. With two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, infrastructure has become a top priority.
Every year in mid-May, business, labor groups and policy-making leadership come together for Infrastructure Week, a national initiative to discuss what infrastructure means to Americans and what can be done to address these critical issues.
Traditionally, the conversation around infrastructure has focused on improving our roads and bridges, which is essential. But, it’s important to recognize that infrastructure consists of more than concrete and steel. Infrastructure is also about power grids, transportation systems, the industrial base and smart buildings. Every sector plays an important role in renewing and upgrading our nation’s infrastructure. We need to focus on building infrastructure that is smarter.
By utilizing technology that is already changing our lives, we can not only improve infrastructure, but also make it more intuitive, safer, cleaner and much more efficient. For example, Sacramento recently introduced a “Vision Zero” initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries on roadways. In addition to focusing on redesigning streets and enforcing laws, it’s important to look at the role technology can play.
Connected vehicle systems, where vehicles and traffic infrastructure communicate with one another, can help reduce vehicle accidents by 80 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Sometimes it’s easier to see the direct impact intelligent infrastructure has on cities and society – maybe it’s a building that automatically turns the lights off when you exit a room or an electric vehicle charging station in your garage that automatically powers up during the least expensive time of night. But, when we invest in smart infrastructure technology, you get a multiplier effect that boosts economic development, productivity and job growth.
In Portland, the city has seen more than $10 billion in development within walking distance of its MAX light rail stations. But, that’s just in Portland. If you look at the bigger impact, you’ll find that the vehicles were built here in Sacramento, helping support 850 highly skilled jobs at our rail manufacturing plant, in addition to the hundreds of suppliers we rely on from across the country, 130 of them within 100 miles of the Sacramento plant.
With technology and software, cities can not only get the most out of our country’s existing infrastructure, but plan for ways to better design and build for the future. All of which supports high-tech jobs in engineering and manufacturing, providing cities the opportunity to sustain economic growth and improve the quality of life for citizens.
Michael Cahill is president of Siemens Rolling Stock. Follow him on Twitter @SiemensUSA.