Saturday, August 04, 2007


Back in the day, when you thought of the United States, you thought of big infrastructure projects. The Transcontinental Railroad. The Panama Canal. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge. The Tennessee Valley Authority. The Hoover Dam. The New York Subway System. Railroads. Airports. The Interstates brought to you by Eisenhower. The nation of Japan and the whole of Western Europe.

Thinking back reminds us that we used to rebuild continents and defeated enemy nations because it was economically, socially and politically decided to do so, but at the same time our greatest 'nation building' projects could be found here at home. (DADVocate reminds us of this.)

So is it that they don't build 'em like they used to, or are we just not keeping them up like we used to? And when was it decided that we were going to stop paying attention? Because this affects us all. Drifting throught he Grift even has a map to share. But don't stop there, because this ain't just about bridges.

Levees fail and inundate an American city, steam pipes start exploding in New York City and a bridge falls in Minnesota. Think even further back: the Boston Big Dig started falling apart the week it opened, the entire North Eastern power grid shut off one day and California still can't get their water and energy issues straight. You think these things aren't related? You think somewhere along the lines, negligence to upkeep infrastructure isn't going to jump up and bite you in the ass? And don't try pointing a finger, because this problem is obviously bigger than one man or agency. It has turned from a red tape issue to a cultural one. Forget gay marriage and stem cells, forget which nation we will invade next (Iran or Pakistan?), we need to come down the hierarchy of needs pyramid a few dozen steps, Bubba, because we've got bigger fish to fry than advance culture war red herrings or projecting power abroad.

Vigilance and taxes are the price of freedom. They are also the price we pay to be the most connected nation in the world. One of the reasons this nation is a great nation is because sometime long ago we decided that we were going to work on big projects together in the public interest, and we set our minds to it and went out and did it. The solutions are not difficult to find, it is just making sure the solutions are being implemented - that's the catch.

We'd better start partying like its 1899 and get on this business before we actually end up being transported back to the 19th Century against our will. Riding the Mississippi River ferry was a novel experience last night, it does not need to become a necessity.


Leigh C. said...

Years ago, the LaGuardia airport parking garage had to be completely rebuilt because one could put a dent in the steel by simply pressing one's finger against it. History of the world's great engineering marvels has shown that bottom line costs are always going to trump good, solid, long-term engineering unless something is done. Cases of clearly devaluing engineers' work AND their long-term concerns are only going to get worse.

Oh, yeah, I'm an optimist. maybe to get my outlook even more positive, I oughta take a page from the money men and quit reading ANYTHING unless it is green and about the same size as a U.S. dollar bill.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Way to look at that glass half-full. The expectation comes from the body politic. If the public wants infrastructure they can be proud of and have trust in, they stay involved and on the government/private contractors' rear ends about making sure the work gets done.

The key is involvement in civic organizations, political parties and the process itself. The system is set up to discourage involvement, which makes it difficult, but it is not impossible. We've done it before and we will again.

Dante said...

I grew up building houses with my father. In my teenage years, I worked on more than a few government construction sites as well as a few private sites. The biggest problem I always saw in government construction is that nobody thought for themselves because nobody cared. At 10:30AM sharp, everyone would drop what they're doing and take a break. At 12PM sharp, everyone would drop what they're doing and go to lunch. Constructions doesn't work that way! People would leave mortar to dry on brick work, framing to fall down on walls, and other things that would not only just make more work for them in the long run but also affect the overall stability of what they were working on. When the plans had errors and omissions, they'd just build to plan. So what if there's no door to this classroom? We'll just build it to plan and blow through twice as much time putting one in after-the-fact. It was madness.

On the private side of things, it was much different. Workers worked with stopping points for things like lunch. They might go to lunch from 12:10-1:10 but they didn't leave things to fall apart while they're gone. They fixed plans where they could and contacted their superiors for guidance where they couldn't.

But probably the most interesting part of it is that these were the same crews working both jobs! Whoever is controlling these goverment work projects is fostering an environment that encourages braindead work-for-pay while the other side of the coin is out there trying to get the best work they can. You change that, and government work might actually be decent again.

Dante said...

Oh, and the government construction wasn't with my father. I got a job with my friend's dad in high school installing industrial kitchens and plumbing fixtures. Just thought it was important to point out I wasn't talking about residential construction with my examples. We mostly worked on schools and a few government buildings here and there for government work and fast food restaurants on the private side of things.