Our infrastructure is getting old and needs to be renewed. It is not news that much of what we use today was built fifty, a hundred or more years ago. America was a much poorer & less advanced back then. A question that we should ask is how did a country so much poorer than we are today, with less developed technology and significantly smaller government spending do what we cannot? How can we shovel such piles of money out the door and have so little to show for it?The “Economist” has an article about our decaying maritime infrastructure that gives some hints. It talks about a lock that connects the Mississippi River to the Inland Waterway. This is worth billions of dollars in commerce yet it was built in, “1921, and is 600 usable feet long, or half the length of a modern lock. Its replacement was authorised in 1956. Construction on the replacement was authorised in 1998, and then stalled by lawsuits.” reference.
We used to be a nation of doers, engineers & visionaries and now we are a nation of wimps, weenies & lawyers. We used to design stuff and then just do it. There usually was lots of gnashing of teeth, but things got done. We finished the Hoover Dam in less time than it takes to get an environmental impact statement through the process. I read an interesting book about Hoover Dam called Colossus, on the building of the Hoover Dam. Almost each time I turned the page, I said to myself, “We could never do this today.” With the lawyers, NGOs and NIMBY folks arrayed around, they would not have been able to toss the first shovel full of dirt. I don’t doubt that we wiped out at least one subspecies of beetle or snail, but who knew then and who cares now?
We really need to get better at this. We don’t have to learn new lessons; we simply have to relearn what we used to do. Remember, we build most of the stuff we have to renew when we were poorer & less advanced and government budgets were much lower. We did it before and should be able to do it again.
On the plus sides, shale gas is creating an industrial renaissance in the Great Lakes region. Gas has been a real game changer and barge and ship traffic is is expected to improve more than any time in the last thirty years. I know this is a little off topic, but I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and anything having to do with the Great Lakes fascinates me.