THINKING BROADLY ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE
More than a decade ago, experts began to raise alarms about the status of the nation's infrastructure. An early assessment warned of "America in ruins," and a succession of national commissions and private researchers followed with reports describing declining investment, neglected maintenance, "hard choices" to be made, and a growing need to "deliver the goods."3
Interestingly, the debate has proceeded without clear agreement on what comprises "infrastructure." Speaking at subcommittee hearings in 1987, former Senator Stafford commented that "probably the word infrastructure means different things to different people."4 The word was coined, according to many dictionaries, in the first half of the twentieth century to refer to
military installations. Some researchers trace its origin to Winston Churchill; others, to earlier sources.
Now defined (by Webster's dictionary) as an "underlying foundation or basic framework," infrastructure has come to connote a diverse collection of constructed facilities and associated services, ranging from airports to energy supply to landfills to wastewater treatment. Many of the facilities are built and operated by governments, and thus fall easily into the category of public works, but others are built or operated, in whole or in part, by private enterprise or joint public-private partnership. What we today consider infrastructure has traditionally been viewed as separate systems of constructed facilities, supporting such functions as supplying water, enabling travel, and controlling floods. Especially at the national level, programs that spurred the growth of highways, modern water supplies, urban transit systems, and other infrastructure elements have developed independently of one another. The roots of this management paradigm5 lie in the nineteenth century, but today the challenge of coordination is staggering.
INFRASTRUCTURE'S MANY SERVICES
An earlier committee of the National Research Council, reporting on Infrastructure for the 21st Century (NRC, 1987), adopted the term "public works infrastructure" including
both specific functional modes—highways, streets, roads, and bridges; mass transit; airports and airways; water
supply and water resources; wastewater management; solid waste treatment and disposal; electric power generation and transmission; telecommunications; and hazardous waste management—and the combined system these modal elements comprise. A comprehension of infrastructure spans not only these public works facilities, but also the operating procedures, management practices, and development policies that interact together with societal demand and the physical world to facilitate the transport of people and goods, provision of water for drinking and a variety of other uses, safe disposal of society's waste products, provision of energy where it is needed, and transmission of information within and between communities.
To the specific modes cited in that description should be added systems of public buildings—schools, health care facilities, government offices, and the like. These facilities—not as individual buildings, but tied together by the functional and administrative systems they house—provide important services to the public at large, in much the same fashion as highways and water supply facilities (see Henning et al., 1991, for example).
Parkland, open space, urban forests, drainage channels and aquifers, and other hydrologic features also qualify as infrastructure, not only for their aesthetic and recreational value, but because they play important roles in supplying clean air and water. Even when they are not used directly as part of the supply system, such elements influence the demand for other infrastructure services. The modes are becoming increasingly important as we increase our efforts to avoid or mitigate an expanding list of environmental problems.
Viewed historically, new modes may enter the definition of infrastructure from time to time and others disappear. For example, walls and other fortifications were an important element of medieval city infrastructure, long before telephones were invented.
Studies done in the early 1970s for the U.S. Council for Environmental Quality estimated the per capita costs of infrastruc-
ture investment in typical U.S. mixed-density communities to be $1,500 to $2,000 (RERC, 1974). The 1992 figure is probably closer to $4,500 per capita, on average, and substantially higher in older, denser urban areas. BRB staff estimate that our infrastructure may represent a total national investment exceeding $1.4 trillion.
Operating and maintenance procedures, management practices, and development policies (i.e., the software) are also essential elements of infrastructure. Software and hardware must work together to produce effective infrastructure performance.
The various facilities of infrastructure ("infrastructures," as some term them, hardware and software) comprise the hard core of the concept, but to discuss infrastructure only in terms of facilities neglects the important services provided by both private enterprise and public agencies, that are enabled by these facilities. The creation and distribution of these infrastructure services occur through distinct economic and social actions that are influenced by many factors beyond the facilities themselves. Airlines and departments of education may be encouraged or constrained by their systems of airports and schoolhouses, but have broad latitude to adjust their operations and costs in response to demands.
These services are broadly important: public health and welfare, economic productivity, and individual quality of life depend essentially on infrastructure. The importance of transport access, telecommunications, or ample supplies of clean water to individual industries and cities is readily apparent. However, it is the multimodal system of infrastructure as a whole that provides a crucial enabling environment for economic growth and enhanced quality of life. This synergistic effect is most easily seen in the world's great cities, which could not have developed without infrastructure's support.
The beginning of Rome's water supply by Appius Claudius in 312 B.C. was an early step in the development of an infrastructure—which by the first century A.D. included paved roads, fire protection, and sewerage—that supported the city's centuries of undisputed dominance. Henry IV and his minister
Sully created the basis for several generations of France's prosperity by developing that nation's canals and roads. Advancing transportation technologies enabled the growth of the great industrial cities of the nineteenth century. In the current information age, electronic communications have become an important element of infrastructure, and cities from New York to Osaka seek to gain access by constructing "teleports" linking their businesses to the global satellite network.
In cities, the debilitating impact of inadequate infrastructure is notable as well. Production costs for goods and services are estimated to be as much as 30 percent higher in some cities of the developing world because firms must provide their own water and power supplies (Lee et al., 1986). Low economic productivity and high rates of morbidity and mortality, particularly among the young, are endemic results of poor water supplies, roads, and waste management, as well as other infrastructure deficiencies, in less developed nations.
At national levels, Aschauer (1989) attributed a major share of the decline in U.S. productivity since the 1960s to deficiencies in infrastructure investment, generating intense debate among economists. Others have found similar, if smaller, effects in regions of the United States (Munnell, 1990) and in countries at various stages of development (Khan, 1987). Reliable estimates of the aggregate productivity of infrastructure capital remain clouded by the complexities of data and competing explanations of cause.
PUBLIC WORKS AND PRIVATE
Within this broad view of infrastructure, "public works" are a focus of political debate in the 1990s, even to the extent of the 1992 presidential campaign. Defined by the American Public Works Association as "the physical structures and facilities developed or acquired by public agencies to house governmental functions and provide water, waste disposal, power, transportation and similar services to facilitate achievement of common social and
economic objectives," public works are the primary focus of this study. However, public works are infrastructure and thus include services as well as facilities, private as well as public aspects of their provision and management, and the broad range of "social and economic objectives" that infrastructure facilitates.
Government and private sector operations can (and in many cities do) compete directly for the right to collect and dispose of municipal solid waste. The success of such corporations as Federal Express and DHL in air parcel delivery, for example, reflects the development of new private infrastructure services based on existing public infrastructures.
The national infrastructure debate of the last decade has been shaped by a variety of economic, social, and environmental forces that sometimes raise obstacles and at other times present opportunities to both private and public providers of infrastructure. The influences of technological change and society's corresponding shifts in concerns and priorities have been reflected in regulatory practices, government budgets, and patterns of private demand for infrastructure. Lack of coordination—and sometimes overt antagonism—among national, state, and local governments, among infrastructure modes; and between private and public providers of infrastructure has influenced and often retarded decision making and action.
Much of today's infrastructure relies on technologies that emerged initially in the nineteenth century. Brooklyn's (New York) was the first modern urban sewage treatment system, built in 1857 (Herman and Ausubel, 1988). The first concrete roads followed within two decades the 1824 invention of Portland cement, and the Place de la Concorde in Paris was paved with asphalt as early as 1835 (Hamilton, 1975). Modern water supply was born in London in the middle of the century. Alexander
Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and Edison his electric light in 1880.
Evidence shows that there is a relatively long time period, on the order of 100 years in the case of rail and road, in the transition from one infrastructure technology to the next (Grubler, 1990). The overall character of today's water supply and sewerage systems would be recognizable to an engineer of the nineteenth century, although the chemicals and controls used in processing have evolved substantially. The middle part of the nineteenth century was a highly productive period for infrastructure technology, a result of the convergence of new invention with rapid expansion of investment as the Industrial Revolution spread and America moved west. The rapid growth of railways in England demonstrates a concurrence of two technologies (i.e., the iron wagonway and the steam engine) that enabled this mode of transport to develop, just as in a later century a quantum leap in road transport performance became possible after introduction of the internal combustion engine. Before that, even ambitious road construction programs could not significantly improve the slow transport speeds of horse-drawn carriages and wagons (Grubler, 1990).
Change in infrastructure technologies, despite such evidence, can be more rapid. Electric power generating plants, for example, have been expected to last only 25 to 30 years. These facilities have typically become noncompetitive within this time frame, as newer more efficient equipment is introduced (Marland and Weinberg, 1988). Currently, that perception is said to be changing—and lifetimes are lengthening—as designers reach the ceiling of thermodynamic efficiency in conventional generation technology, but new technologies offering higher efficiencies (such as gas turbine or integrated gasification combined cycle processes (White et al., 1992) are on the horizon. In telecommunications as well, obsolescence currently is more likely than wear or other deterioration to motivate replacement of equipment.
Changes in technologies typically respond to demands for goods and services. With infrastructure, the demand is often complex, derived from the support it provides for other social and
economic activities. Generally speaking, greater numbers of people and higher levels of economic activity mean greater demand for infrastructure. However, as rush-hour highway commuters and airport users frequently observe firsthand, the performance and capacity of infrastructures are acutely sensitive to patterns in time and space, as well as to the overall magnitude of underlying demand. The number of people who experience severe congestion and delays during a peak period could be easily accommodated with high-quality service if their travel were more evenly distributed throughout the day. The engineering design of an airport passenger terminal, for example, is typically based on peak demand levels that are 50 to 150 percent greater than would be needed if demand were spread evenly over time, and the factor can be even greater in other elements of infrastructure.
Most infrastructures are linked in networks. Roads and interchanges; water treatment plants, supply mains, and distributors; generating plants, transmission lines, and step-down transformers; sewers, treatment plants, and outfalls—all are tied tightly to one another and to thousands of individual households and businesses. These networks stretch over large areas and quickly transmit changes from one part of the system to another, and the functions of the whole surpass the sum of the parts. Thus, when one transmission line crossing the Potomac River failed one afternoon early in 1992, downtown Washington, D.C., was plunged into total darkness. The breaching of a segment of a disused tunnel in Chicago, some weeks later, caused the flooding of much of the Windy City's downtown. One minor accident on an urban highway can cause miles-long traffic jams during rush hour.
Because of large facility size and network extent, infrastructure often has broad environmental and social impacts, but these impacts frequently have been underestimated or neglected in system planning and management. For example, congested roads in 39 U.S. cities are estimated to have cost drivers more than $34 billion in 1988, in delays, wasted fuel, and higher insurance premiums (Hanks and Lomax, 1990). In another study, air pollution from motor vehicles was found to be responsible for $40
billion to 50 billion in annual healthcare expenditures and as many as 120,000 unnecessary or premature deaths (Cannon, 1989). Such costs, seldom considered by agencies deciding whether to invest in highways or transit, add perhaps $0.07 per mile to the costs paid by individuals choosing to travel by private auto.6
Institutionalization of environmental concerns in legislation, regulation, and formalization of impact assessment and planning procedures has increased the time and cost of the various steps required before any major action concerning infrastructure can be taken. A rapid expansion of U.S. environmental legislation in recent years has resulted in an ''uncoordinated patchwork'' of control requirements that has grown, by one count, from only 7 environmental laws enacted in the entire history of the United States until 1955 to more than 40 by 1986 (Balzhiser, 1989). These laws, a reflection of important societal priorities, have slowed and sometimes stopped investments or introductions of technology in infrastructure that would have been accomplished easily in prior decades. However, a valuable consequence is the emerging shift toward environmentally beneficial technologies, more supportive of "sustainable" economic and social activity.
Infrastructure is generally capital intensive. Because of high initial costs, the commissioning of a new dam, treatment plant, or highway is often a newsworthy event that attracts public attention. The costs of regular maintenance and operations seem small compared to construction but may, over the course of a facility's service life, total much more than the facility's initial costs. Infrastructure managers and elected officials, faced with the challenge of balancing competing public priorities and limited fiscal resources, often find it easy to defer maintenance spending and neglect infrastructure's upkeep. Unfortunately, deferrals speed deterioration and failures of the infrastructure. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the problem has reached extreme levels. The World Bank estimated that the backlog of neglected maintenance for roads alone exceeds $5 billion, more than seven times the
annual spending needed to keep the roads in good shape (World Bank, 1989).
Nevertheless, infrastructures are expected to be long-lived and are routinely designed to meet demands projected for three decades or more into the future. Most dams, bridges, highways, and other infrastructures endure much longer. For example the Brooklyn Bridge is still performing well after more than 100 years; the Alicante Dam has survived nearly four centuries; and such cities as Venice, Paris, and London have functioning facilities that are much older.7 Facilities are in many instances taken out of service only because a competing one can perform the service more effectively or because the service is no longer particularly valuable—for example, a bridge is too narrow for increased traffic loads. These long capital investment cycles and facility lifetimes retard the adoption of newer and potentially more productive technologies.
During the time between major investments, governments (as the primary builders of infrastructure's facilities) and the populations they serve grow comfortable with patterns of spending that often include no allowance for depreciation or replacement of capital. Government accounting standards lack measures of financial condition equivalent to the private corporation's balance sheet. Attention to substantial public assets and consequent investment spending are episodic, making opportunities for change or the application of new technologies rare in any particular city or region.
Looking to such common characteristics, the Office of Technology Assessment highlighted five major areas of cross-cutting technology that offer opportunities for improving infrastructure (OTA, 1991):8
Measurement and non-destructive evaluation tools will enable infrastructure managers to survey the condition of large structures and extensive networks of pipe and pavement, quickly and without inflicting additional damage.
Information and decision systems will permit monitoring of use and resource scheduling to concentrate management effort where it will be most effective.
Communications and positioning systems will facilitate control of geographically distributed infrastructure systems and improve the systemwide delivery of service to users.
Field construction technologies will enhance the efficiency and safety of facility construction and rehabilitation.
Materials and corrosion protection improvements will offer higher strength, longer life, and hence greater efficiencies in future infrastructure.
These five areas are not new. Rather, they represent incremental improvement of existing and sometimes widely used technology. Their value is nevertheless substantial, particularly because incremental improvements are more easily put into practice.
Some professionals feel that major breakthroughs in new technology are potentially available as well. Alternative systems involving new concepts or technologies could replace today's infrastructure systems (NRC, 1987). For example, riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) has been found to accelerate sunlight's ability to break down certain industrial pollutants in wastewater, foreshadowing perhaps substantially improved waste treatment efficiencies. Genetically engineered algae and bacteria could allow sewage treatment to begin at the source—possibly in tanks located next to the hot-water reservoir in homes and commercial facilities—reducing the load on central municipal plants.
However, societal concern about technological risk has grown significantly over recent years in the United States and elsewhere. This growth is a result of the increasing complexity of infrastructure technology and perceived increases in the potentially adverse consequences of making a mistake. These factors are
poorly understood by the general population. Individuals sometimes fear they may be exposed not only to undesirable environmental conditions (e.g., noise, division of the neighborhood, consequent loss of property value), but also to unforeseen hazards to health and safety (e.g., toxic substances, electromagnetic radiation, heavy vehicular traffic). Peoples' concern about potential risk is increased when the cause of risk is perceived as particularly dread (e.g., cancer), uncontrollable (e.g., nuclear explosion), or of unknown proportion (Slovic et al., 1985). These concerns inevitably shape the course of infrastructure's technological evolution.
INSTITUTIONS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The evolution of infrastructure occurs within a context of established institutions and interests, and most cities and their regions lack an effective mechanism for planning and management of infrastructure as a whole system. A myriad of local, regional, and national government agencies, quasi-governmental institutions, and private firms typically are involved in the planning, creation, operation, and regulation of physical infrastructure. The jurisdictions of these various bodies may be defined by political boundaries, historic precedent, or institutional competition that has little to do with the topography, demographics, or other features of the region that influence system performance and might provide a logical basis for efficient management.
This institutional complexity inhibits both coordinated action and discussion of the cross-cutting issues of infrastructure and its technological advancement. Further, despite the crucial importance of infrastructure for the nation's economy and quality of life, there is no federal center of responsibility for infrastructure policy. Instead responsibility is distributed among several federal agencies that have independent roles in the development or regulation of specific modes such as transportation, energy supply and transport, telecommunications, and water resources.
In fact, throughout the national debate, there has been little agreement on the nature of infrastructure and even less agreement that common action is warranted. Engineering and public administration professions tend to deal independently with transportation, water supply, or waste management, and give relatively little attention to the common features or functional interactions of these separate systems. Ever since the initial claims of a system in ruins, many policy makers and members of the public have expressed understandable skepticism, observing that despite pessimistic projections, many elements of the nation's infrastructure seemingly continue to work well. These skeptics assert that aggregate trends have little practical meaning; actual needs are limited to a few facilities and concentrated in a few geographic areas. While some communities feel the pinch of tight budgets, in many others the public willingly votes to approve bond issues or other means to pay for refurbishing aging facilities or building new ones (e.g., see Sanders, 1991).
An obstacle to effective national action is bridging the gap between national policy and diverse local concerns. Studies to date have largely neglected infrastructure's local "users," including those people who may view particular infrastructures as a burden out of proportion to their local benefit. This neglect is manifest in the widespread NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) and similar responses to infrastructure projects.
Conflict develops between some groups of people—typically defined by a particular locality or other community characteristics—and the more general community at large. Members of the former see themselves as potential "losers" in the conflict because they are asked to bear what they view as adverse impact out of proportion to the benefit they receive. A neighborhood will then resist improvement of streets in the area out of fear that the traffic of commuters riding through the neighborhood will increase. A small town will object to the siting of a solid waste transfer facility that will enhance the efficiency of the regional waste management system. A community will fight its destruction and replacement by major highways and urban redevelopment.
Against this background of limited agreement, technological obstacles, and institutional complexity, the nation's difficulties in dealing effectively with its infrastructure problems are not surprising. However, progress has been made in local areas here and there around the country. The committee sought to observe the characteristics of, and bases for, the progress and to extract lessons for the nation.
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