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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The nation's infrastructure has become a steady theme of national debate and almost a household word. As a source for new jobs in a slow-growth economy, a means for better protection of the environment, an instrument for community development, or an ingredient in restoring America's global competitive strength, infrastructure has come increasingly to be seen as a major part of the solution to pressing national problems. At the same time, infrastructure collapse and destruction—in Chicago's tunnels, Washington's power supply, or New York's steam lines; in Florida's hurricane or California's earthquake—are reminders of how fragile the system may be and how dependent we are on the services of infrastructure. Infrastructure's emergence from technical obscurity follows more than a decade of study and debate. Representing a total investment that may exceed $1.4 trillion, the nation's infrastructure is said by many people to be "in ruins." Many policy makers and members of the public have expressed understandable skepticism when presented with such dire assessments. They observe that failures are isolated, primarily in a few older cities, and many elements of the nation's infrastructure seemingly continue to work quite well. While some communities find that the pinch of tight budgets constrains their ability to maintain what they have, others willingly vote to approve bond issues or other means to pay for refurbishing aging facilities or building new ones. Nevertheless, even those who question the extreme views of the status of U.S. infrastructure have come to recognize that problems do exist . Technological and institutional complexity
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure inhibits both coordinated action and discussion of the cross-cutting issues of infrastructure and its technological advancement. A National Research Council committee, drawing on its members' experience and observations in cities around the country, spent more than a year seeking to gain better understanding of these problems and how they might be solved. During the spring and summer of 1992, the committee held workshop colloquia in three communities—Phoenix, Arizona; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Boston, Massachusetts—selected from a longer list of candidates because they seemed to have experienced notable successes in uniting and mobilizing to come to grips with their infrastructure problems. This report presents what the committee found and its recommendations for what should be done—by policy makers, infrastructure professionals, and the public at large—to improve the nation's infrastructure. These recommendations call for change in the ways we think about and manage our infrastructure. A NEED FOR CHANGE For the most part, infrastructure is built and operated locally and supports virtually all local economic and social activity. The committee's experience makes clear that change must begin at the local level. The complexity and multifunctional nature of the facilities and services that comprise a region's infrastructure are poorly reflected in the system's management. In most regions, the various modes of infrastructure (e.g., transportation, water supply, waste disposal) are managed separately, with few effective ways of dealing with the trade-offs among modes. While each distinct mode provides uniquely important services, infrastructure's diverse modes function as a system, providing supportive services to a wide range of economic and social activities, a crucial enabling environment for economic growth, and enhanced quality of life. Infrastructure facilities and services support neighborhoods and communities. The current and long-term costs of infrastructure,
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure both monetary costs and adverse impacts, are not borne equally by those who benefit from infrastructure's services. Adverse impacts (such as neighborhood disruption or air pollution) of infrastructure may extend well beyond a facility's immediate users and neighbors. The policies and management practices typically shaping a region's infrastructure are a product of decades of growth and investment. These policies and practices emphasize the design and construction of facilities, and deal poorly with operating efficiencies, the services infrastructure provides to the public, the unwanted by-products of infrastructure, and the imperatives of maintenance. Operating and maintenance procedures, management practices, and development policies (i.e., infrastructure's software) are essential elements of the system. Software and hardware must work together and with societal demands to produce effective infrastructure performance. Infrastructure professionals must be prepared to deal effectively with this software. The nation's economy is a product of its many local regions, and national policy influences local infrastructure, often profoundly. National inefficiencies and inequities that could be tolerated in times of rapid growth have become burdensome as the nation seeks to define sustainable futures. Despite the infrastructure system's crucial importance for the nation's economy and quality of life, there is no national center of responsibility for infrastructure policy, nor is there a clearly delineated statement of such policy, although several federal agencies have independent roles in the development or regulation of specific modes. At the same time, new technologies offer opportunities for greatly enhanced service, but the relative inflexibility of the current system inhibits their development and adoption. New legislation such as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 offers hope for change, but more is needed. National infrastructure policy must shift toward a more broadly defined, more integrated, and more locally tailored approach to infrastructure.
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure BUILDING ON EXPERIENCE The committee's workshops in Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Boston highlighted how a city's location, history, economy, and culture influence its infrastructure and are influenced by it. The locally focused, cross-modal and service-oriented perspective of this study marked an important departure from most earlier work. The committee observed that communities working together can make progress in dealing with the problems of infrastructure, but it takes time, patience, imagination, and a willingness to devote resources to the task. The infrastructure of Phoenix, a city ''at the threshold of maturity,'' is a product of a desert setting, rapid growth driven in part by major infrastructure investments, low-density urbanization, and large areas of open space. The modern settlement of Phoenix began in the late 1860s, but bears the mark of ancient native people who built canals and roads several centuries before this modern growth. In Phoenix, the committee found an infrastructure shaped by a unique coalition of the arts and public works communities. This coalition appears to have fostered imaginative ways of dealing with community concerns and has enhanced the levels of communication and trust between infrastructure professionals and the public at large. The coalition's work is reflected in newly developed highway and solid waste management facilities. The committee also found technological innovation in locally developed processes for using ground rubber, from waste vehicular tires, as an asphalt additive to improve overlay adhesion and hot-weather performance. The new mix is said to have superior working characteristics and physical behavior; it resists bleaching in the Arizona sun and results in a 10-decibel reduction in tire-pavement noise, compared to conventional pavements. The city, now using rubber from approximately 300,000 recycled tires annually, pays no license fees for using the process. The city engineer who was given the opportunity to innovate was well rewarded for his efforts. Cincinnati is a mature city, founded shortly after the American Revolution and built on steep hills and bluffs overlooking the Ohio
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure River and tributaries. Present-day Cincinnati has a relatively compact downtown area and some 25 miles of municipally owned retaining walls, more than any other city in the United States. In the mid-1980s, the city was a victim of a classic crisis of declining population and tax base and aging facilities, a crisis it faced through a concerted effort of its infrastructure professionals and its business community. This coalition worked to inform the public of infrastructure's importance to the community's prosperity and then to mobilize community resources to pay for the increased spending required both to "catch-up" with past deficiencies and to maintain the city's infrastructure in the future. The centerpiece of this effort was the Infrastructure Commission, a small group of volunteer leaders of the business community who, in turn, recruited the participation of almost 200 other volunteers from throughout the business community. These volunteers worked with city staff, contributing more than 10,000 person-hours over the course of one year to assess the city's infrastructure and make recommendations for bringing the city's physical assets back to good condition and appearance. The commission developed a comprehensive package of specific recommendations for facilities and operating improvements, and for funding to enable the increased levels of spending required to implement these improvements. A substantial share of the needed revenue came from an increase in the city's earnings tax, narrowly approved by the voters in a 1988 referendum. Boston, the oldest and most historic of the three cities visited by the committee, has demonstrated over the years a historic inclination of its citizens to consider bold civic visions and set the city on a course to remake itself, while seeking to preserve its most important historic landmarks. Today, Boston is in the midst of a major cycle of refurbishment and expansion of its infrastructure that includes new rail transit lines, as well as highway and sewage treatment projects of monumental proportions. These major projects bring to the forefront the questions of national interests in local infrastructure, through their large scale and their use of national resources—in some cases financial, in other cases judicial and administrative. The estimated combined
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure cost of the two ongoing projects, the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel and the Harbor Cleanup, is around $14 billion. Whether other technologies might be more effective or less costly is a matter of continuing debate. Maintaining timely progress and community support on such major projects presents truly major management challenges. PRINCIPLES FOR SEEKING "WIN-WIN" OUTCOMES In their visits to Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Boston, committee members talked to private citizens and representatives of the business communities and governments, who were grappling with issues of infrastructure development and management. From this experience, the committee extracted three broad principles for dealing with local infrastructure issues, principles that can lead toward "win-win" situations, in which parties with potentially opposing interests seek a way to resolve a conflict such that all parties gain. The committee observed specific examples in Boston, Cincinnati, and Phoenix that support and demonstrate these principles. At their core, these principles represent a prescription for what works: good planning, good management, and good community relations. Within the context of practices of the past several decades, applying these principles means a shift toward a broader view and broader participation in the infrastructure. The committee recommends these principles for policy makers, infrastructure professionals, and the public in communities facing infrastructure problems or simply seeking to enhance their ability to develop and manage more effectively. Ultimately this means all communities throughout the nation. The committee recommends that responsible government agencies and the Congress act to enable and encourage broad adoption of these principles in managing the nation's infrastructure.
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure Principle 1: Geography Matters The specific physical, social, economic, and environmental characteristics of a region should be the primary factors shaping that region's infrastructure investment and management. National policy must deal effectively with local concerns, allowing solutions to be tailored to natural environment, social patterns, and locally assessed needs and aspirations of the region. Cincinnati's need for retaining walls and the recurrent flooding in some neighborhoods are reminders that infrastructure should be designed and managed to respect the natural features (e.g., drainage, geology) and social structure of the community and to be compatible with these features. The history of Boston's transit extensions, converted from planned highways through intense community involvement, shows that there should be respect for the social and cultural character of a region, as well as compatibility. These natural, social, and cultural features are connected in complex ways that should shape the region's infrastructure. To apply this principle effectively, local authorities must collect and maintain good data to support effective decision making and good documentation of the bases and consequences of decisions. Increasingly powerful and lower- cost computer-based geographic information systems will facilitate data management and documentation. Principle 2: The Paradigm is Broadening The pattern of infrastructure management must change from uncoordinated functional subsystems to incorporate a new recognition that infrastructure is a multimodal and multipurpose system—a stream of services—as well as an armature of community development. Phoenix's solid waste transfer facility—a product of artists and engineers collaborating in design—demonstrates this broader paradigm, that infrastructure facility planning, design, and management can seek to deliver multiple services. Boston's decades-long transportation system development shows how
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure communities can be flexible in allocating resources within the whole system to suit local conditions, always examining multiple solutions for each problem and taking a long-term perspective in decision making, extending beyond the traditional 15- to 30-year design service life or bond financing horizon. Increasing the investment in infrastructure, although often necessary and appropriate, is not sufficient by itself to solve a region's or the nation's problems. As Cincinnati's Infrastructure Commission found when faced with the task of assessing the city's problems, new systems for monitoring and maintaining infrastructure condition and performance at appropriate levels are needed, systems that are less susceptible to shifting political forces. To the extent that national policies support infrastructure, these policies should be shifted from a narrow focus on transportation, water resources, or other single elements of the infrastructure system. National infrastructure policies and programs should be structured to foster a new paradigm that applies across infrastructure modes and brings together the interests of diverse regions within a context of equity among cities and regions. This new paradigm must be presented and refined through education of infrastructure professionals and policy makers. Infrastructure professionals need a broader and more integrative educational experience that will enable them to communicate effectively with the public and policy makers, as well as manage the infrastructure system. The case of the Phoenix city engineer—who improved street pavement performance, saved the city money, and was himself well compensated for developing a way to use old tires in the asphalt concrete mix—demonstrates why policy makers should give greater recognition to the enabling value of infrastructure, by promoting and rewarding innovation in infrastructure technology and management. Research and development contribute to our understanding of the services that infrastructure can provide and the options for providing these services more effectively, and may lead to innovation if results are transferred into practice. Local
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure demonstrations are a valuable form of research and development that should be used to verify and disseminate new technology. Principle 3: Value the "Public" in Public Works Infrastructure serves the public, and effective public involvement and broad intersectoral and interdisciplinary partnerships in infrastructure development and management are needed to apply the broader paradigm. As the hard-earned success of Cincinnati's Infrastructure Commission showed, inclusion by the community of broad representation of users and neighbors of infrastructure within these partnerships strengthens decision making. All three cities visited by the committee showed that to build leadership and effectiveness, the people responsible for approving infrastructure development (i.e., voters) need to be better informed to judge matters of infrastructure technology and its impact on the economy, the environment, and the general quality of life. Public education is an essential element of future infrastructure management. Infrastructure professionals should include community peer review of plans and progress as a regular part of major infrastructure decision making. Such peer review is an effective means for building the new coalitions of diverse interest groups that the broader paradigm will bring. STARTING IN OUR OWN BACKYARD Making these principles effective will require vision and leadership at local and national levels. The committee recommends that responsible government agencies and the Congress act to enable and encourage their broad adoption by policy makers, infrastructure professionals, and the public in communities throughout the nation face infrastructure problems or seek simply to enhance their ability to develop and manage more effectively.
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure Adequate infrastructure is a crucial element of the national enabling environment needed for increasing productivity and improving the quality of life. Effective national policy can support that enabling environment by providing the framework for alleviating many of the problems our infrastructure faces. A national perspective can bring together the interests of diverse regions, maintaining equity among cities and regions and the fostering of structures in local government to support the new management paradigm of infrastructure as a system of services. National infrastructure policy can address effectively—in a way that is not possible at local levels alone—the balance of resources applied among infrastructure modes and between infrastructure and other issues of national interest. However, today's complex and often conflicting and inefficient collection of laws, regulations, standards, and programs that address separately the various modes and their impacts must be changed. The ISTEA legislation, which includes broad provisions for intermodal coordination and community planning, indicates that change is possible at the national level, but the ISTEA is only a transportation act with little, if any, consequence for water supply, sewerage, telecommunications, and other elements of infrastructure. If communities are to take an integrated, multimodal view in developing and managing their infrastructure, federal programs must be fully supportive. A particularly important form of support is the federal funding of infrastructure research, development, and especially demonstration activities. Such agencies as the National Science Foundation, Department of Transportation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Environmental Protection Agency can and should foster cross-cutting research to improve local areas' practical capabilities for life cycle management, condition monitoring and performance assessment, and information and system management. Nevertheless, infrastructure is essentially local, and local differences will always require specific variations in facilities, management systems, and funding patterns. A supportive national policy environment is needed, policy that responds to our increasing recognition of global interdependence and responsibilities, but
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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure strategies for addressing issues of infrastructure must be applied locally—to paraphrase the often-used phrase of resistance to infrastructure—in our own backyards.
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