With the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis, everyone seems to be weighing in on the country's failing infrastructure. I am not surprised our infrastructure is falling apart. Many of our nation's water and sewer tunnels and bridges were built years ago. These structures - built with the best available materials and ideas at their time - support a 50-year life cycle. As tragedies like this one unfold, we are reminded that nothing lasts forever and these structures need to be replaced or repaired.
Expect more of these catastrophes in the future, unless we act now.
Most future failures will come in the eastern U.S., a region with much older infrastructure than the West. The structures in the East used aged materials. Some modern materials have life cycles up to 200 years or longer, but most of the products in our current systems have only a 50-year rating and have been around for much longer than that. You can still find wood pipe in numerous cities' water and sewer systems, not modern composite thermoplastics.
Our society takes basic infrastructure for granted. It's not until it becomes personal that people care. A resident doesn't complain until his tap water is dirty, his yard is backed up with sewer water or a bridge fails in his town.
I don't understand why our society has come up with a formula to grade failures. Yes, the cost of replacement factors in, but the truth is a product is good or bad; it has failed or not failed. To give a report card is like saying a woman is only a little pregnant.
We now have allowable ratings for all kinds of failures. Water lines can leak so many gallons per day and sewer lines can inflow and outflow so many gallons per day. Bridges have a certain percentage for breakdown. It is all a way of avoiding the real problem.
Most of these needs are not a top priority for our leaders. New water and sewer lines are not put into service until they are called for. It usually takes a crisis to make it possible.
The price tag for all this important work will be high. Many trade groups and other organizations are studying the problem but haven't decided on a real dollar amount. After the bridge failure in Minneapolis, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated it would take $188 billion just to upgrade the existing bridges in the U.S.
We need to concentrate on our own problems. America's foreign policy seems to be more concerned with rebuilding the infrastructure of other countries' than our own. Instead of looking to these far-off lands, we should look at our own borders. Illegal immigrants come into communities that already have great infrastructure troubles and burden the cities with their needs.
We must compel our leadership to make these changes. We must not allow foreign countries or groups of illegal people take it away from us. We also must never let a far-flung special interest come into the United States to help finance and take over the rebuilding of our infrastructure with oil and blood money. It would be very easy for our politicians to make the wrong decision on these matters, because they do not understand the problems within our own borders.
George Coleman is president of Coleman Group, a Texarkana, Texas-based pipe industry consulting firm.