The Components of Economic Infrastructure


 

After years working in the Water and Utility business for state and government agencies, I learned a few things about local government’s, budgets, planning, and infrastructure. For one, the favorite saying when I was an employee was, out of sight out of mind.

State and local government officials who were elected to office didn’t know much about infrastructure or utilities or how things worked that were put into place years before. They knew that if it wasn’t broke don’t try and fix it, which was the mindset of most.

The planners and builders that built American towns and cities after World War II were innovators who had the foresight to create working mechanical structured grids, laid out with the basic intention that over the course of so many years, these economic infrastructures would be replaced or improved. What are the Components of Economic Infrastructure?

Transportation-roads, bridges, rails, and airports
Energy-Production and delivery of that energy that’s provided and maintained on the electrical grids.
Water infrastructure that provides a supply of clean potable drinking water and manages the water resource. Wastewater treatment as part of that system and a component of the environmental system.
Safety and Resilience-systems that help in the event of a disaster such as shelters and detection systems.
Financial- systems that support the economics process of raising capital for the others.
Health and Education-hospitals, Clinics and schools
Standard and Rules-Provide rules and standards for business-weights and measures and its certification process.
Public Space-parks and beaches
Culture-museums and exhibits
Technology-service technologies such as networks and information
Environment-systems to improve the environment in the community-rain gardens and green roofs-groundwater collection basins and soundproofing along interstate highways are among a few.

Infrastructure Examples

 

All have importance but the three main systems are Transportation, Energy, and Water. Without these, no development would take place. No house would be built. No new business would be opened. In Pennsylvania where I worked without a road, water/sewer hookup and electrical permit,  a house or business could not be built.

Economic infrastructure means those basic facilities and services which directly benefit the process of production and distribution of an economy. Irrigation, power, transport, and communication are examples of Economic Infrastructure. A Dam that holds back water flow, creates a reservoir, that provides drinking water beside suppressing flooding. This system can add Hydro Power for future communities and is an example of good planning and development of Economic Infrastructure.

Soft infrastructure means those basic activities and services which, in addition to achieving certain social objectives, indirectly help various economic activities. For example, education does not directly affect economic activities like production and distribution but indirectly helps in the economic development of the country by producing scientists, technologists, and engineers. So education, health service, sanitation, and water supply, etc. are examples of social infrastructure.

Infrastructure means, those basic facilities and services which facilitate different economic activities and thereby help in the economic development of the country, Education, Health, Transport and Communication, banking and insurance, irrigation and power and science and technology etc. are the examples of infrastructure.

These are also called social overhead capital. These do not directly produce goods and services but induce production in agriculture, industry, and trade by generating external economies. For example, an industry situated on or near the railway line or national highway will produce commodities at less cost.

When I started working in the mid-’70s, it was with my local town’s water system, the place where I was raised. It was approximately 40 to 50 years old back then. The only parts of the system that were replaced were the parts that calculated billing like water meters, shut-offs that were installed regularly to keep the money coming in and customers turned on.

Then the electrical service that was added to bump the grid to add power to whatever was needed. Along with a good coat of paint which was the most likely upgrade for most things up until it couldn’t work anymore.

Domestic sewage pumping stations were maintained, some of the same ones are still operating today. The pipes underground were left alone until they broke or replaced when new developments were added to the grid or city systems. Not always the case but more times than not it was “if it wasn’t broke don’t try and fix it”

Infrastructure Development

As I moved through the different parts of the county, with different jobs, from my area, I saw the same problems. Some bigger or even worse situations. Some of the richest areas in the county were in worse shape because of neglect and miss-management that was brought on by politicians in charge of the state and federal funds that were granted to small municipal governments throughout the State for water and sewer system repair. Those funds didn’t get there. No one took the money but the reasons that funds were distributed were not realized.

They were misappropriated. Put into different budgets throughout County or Township. The monies that the federal government gave out through Congress for the benefit of infrastructure, like from the Clean Streams Water Act never saw an infrastructure program, where the money was supposed to go to. Water and Sewer underground infrastructure took the brunt of the neglect because of the out of sight out of mind mentality that existed.

The new America after the last war was now beaten up and in need of an overhaul. What I saw as a kid out of high school was what nobody seemed to care about. The infrastructure once created a self-sufficient working model American town. An original string of pump stations, water, and sewer piping along with the local sewerage treatment and a quality water treatment plant served the residents. Future development was always engineered in.

Roadways and bridges in plain view that started to crumble had to be replaced. They were political ammunition for the next candidate. They were and still are brought up at public meetings and rouse the voters to change the political faces at Townhall. The Underground Infrastructure of water, sewer, gas and storm pipes and drains were not things people talked about. Until later on down the road. My guess is this was the way it was happening around the country.

Some candidates who rallied for any kind of Infrastructure repair seemed to forget when they got in office. The money that was granted for revitalized infrastructure developments for the most part never got past a good idea. Not always but for the most part, this was my experience.

Grant money from federal resources was added to the Township Planning Boards and Executive board’s bank accounts to declare successful budgets or to build the museum and park with bike trails and fishing piers.

Nothing wrong with museums and fishing piers but it cost the self-sustaining local governments their independents. The solution became regionalization that followed years after that.

After working for Local, County and finally the Federal government, I learned that the bigger the government got, the less got done.  The importance of Infrastructure was not as glamorous as spending money to build new restaurants or Fitness Gyms. The problem became that there was a demand for Infrastructure every time a new building went up. A Straw on the camel’s back was added.

Roads and traffic lights Storm sewers and Storm water runoff basins along with less room at the Sewerage Treatment plants needed to be figured in with the plans to present to Board members who have to OK the monies. It’s how local politics works. More things are added and after 25 or 30 years, things get stuck.

Traffic stops roads cave, water line freeze, and breaks and pump stations back up. Blackouts from electrical outages and rainwater flood places that were never flooded before causing millions of dollars worth of damage. The ground that once held rainwater was now a parking lot. The neighborhood schools needed to close because of the increase of children in the area slowly started to rise with none looking at it. The water and sewer that served the community had to be contracted out or regionalized. That is the neglect of Economic Infrastructure.

I remember in the mid 70’s I was bonded to take money from water customers. Neighborhood customers like Mrs. Smith who because she had 5 kids, who couldn’t pay her water bill on time. I was sent out to give her notice of a shutoff. Instead of turning her water off, I would tell her to give me $5.00 dollars.

I would take the money up to the township building and give her another couple weeks to clear up her debt. Sometimes we would come up with the five bucks ourselves. I wasn’t trained to do it,  that’s how the old system worked. Because we were a self-sufficient system run by neighbors, people with names and faces. That was how it was supposed to be.
Not regulated by the bigger government who has no identity. That situation would never happen in the federal government organization today. It simply couldn’t. Too big.


Business Infrastructure

 

The independent, neighborly small problems from that time and era are gone. What people don’t realize is those basic necessities are not shouldered and trusted like they use to be. Because of the decaying, inadequate infrastructures, smaller type governments, dependent on funds from the federal government who then have more input on the local decisions.

That might be good or may not. We’ll talk in another 40 or 50 years and see how it goes. One thing is certain, there is a national epidemic of bridges falling down and wastewater pipes infiltrating and exfiltrating (leaking in-leaking out) and finally just crumbling to dust and it will continue until someone finally does something about it.

That comes with a price.
It’s now more than ever, you need to depend on yourself for everything, especially for your family. Let me ask you this. Is there 40 lb. of pressure on the fire hydrant on your street? That is the pressure needed for fire protection and water distribution.

Does your drinking water have too much fluoride or VOC’s in it and if so, how long is that been going on? How much have the water/sewer rates gone up because your sewerage is sent down to a regionalization plant in the nearest city 20 miles away? Years ago you knew the people who worked at the water company and their kids who cut grass in the parks all summer until school started.

Who are the people that test your drinking water? Is it really clean or can you trust someone that says it is, always? The same systems that were put in place to protect the infrastructure are supplying drinking water and treating the wastewater and make decisions that will affect your community for decades to come.

The roads your parents took to get to the hospitals where you and all your friends were born are close down and the hospital is now run by a University that set up shop in your neighborhood. The small stores and restaurants can’t afford to pay the taxes to open shop. the local library turned into a senior center (that one is actually an example of good planning). It can go either way.

The Components of Economic Infrastructure that the engineers and builders of your community drew up years ago to specifically prepare for growth and development were either done or sacrificed for something else. The town or city that is able to sustain moves on and thrives. The ones that don’t improve themselves sooner or later stop, like Flint Michigan unless someone has the foresight and takes the time to see what needs to be done, not just now but for the future.

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Jim has over 30 years of experience in Water/Wastewater and Water Filtration/Consulting Business and has written over 250 Articles on the World Wide Water Situation.

JimGalloway

Author/Editor, MyWaterEarth&Sky

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