Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Inferred-Structure Part 2

America is Falling Apart – Literally!

Roads and Highways

Americans drive 3 trillion miles a year, spending 44 hours stuck in gridlock. Moving over 47 thousand miles of Interstate roads built over fifty years ago, we access another estimated 4 million miles in connecting roads that run through our countryside, small towns and primary cities. All of this is a part of a mad collection of criss-crossing paved and unpaved travel ways built or trodden down over the last four hundred years to make this the most complex road system in the world.

The only time in history anyone ever attempted anything on this scale was 2,000 years ago when the Romans built over 83,000 miles of roads and that was built over a similar period of four hundred years. Their roads, ostensibly built to accommodate troop movement over vast spaces in record time, connected all parts of the known world to the ancients. At that time, all roads truly led to Rome. What started out as a means of moving armies brought civilizations from throughout the known world together for the first time in history. This troop movement strategy was not lost on the eyes of the modern leaders when Adolph Hitler used the German Autobahn to move his troops during his infamous Blitzkrieg. So impressive was that tactic that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as President Eisenhower, signed into law an Interstate Bill of 1956 that would, for all practical purposes, allow American troops to move quickly from one end of the continent to the next; east to west, north or south - to defend our freedom.

No other program in history matched the ambition and sheer volume of this task. Nobody moved more dirt…not the pyramids…not the wall of China – No one! Today, of course, many countries, including China, are working feverishly to construct the roads and highways they will need to connect their empires. China may end up with a far larger highway system than any country including the United States. However, fifty years from now, as fortunes change - and they will - China will face the same dilemma we are facing today.

Patch And Pray

No, it’s not a bumper sticker or a clever political axiom. It is the current U.S. policy toward road construction, reconstruction and repair. Across our country, as our dismal political planning and pathetic greedy corporate fa├žade slowly peels away, we are facing the grim reality of a highway system that is not only broken, it’s crumbling beneath our feet. Cities and states that are bereft of any meaningful government assistance rely on “luck” to keep their roads operable. Over 100,000 bridges in America are in decay and some have risen to alarming emergency need levels. Of the estimated 200,000 bridges in America, both private and public, at least 77,000 need repairs right now! More importantly, 20 major bridges, estimated to access nearly 10 million commuters daily are in desperate need of immediate repair and range from the smallest of the 20; Colorado’s South Platte River Bridge over I-25 with a daily commuter load of 208,353; to the largest; New Jersey’s Route-21 Bridge over the I-80 corridor (the busiest bridge corridor in America) with more than 518,000 daily commuters. That’s over 725,000 daily commuters for just two bridges that are considered to be at emergency level need of repairs. Millions of people go to work every day with the pavement beneath their cars in critical condition – conditions that could give way any day!

It doesn’t end there. As we see more and more streets crippled by degrading pavement, sinkholes, potholes and rusted rebar poking through our bridges all decaying from asphalt to gravel right before our eyes, we have to face the sobering reality that there is no money to fix these problems. America relies on these roads to move all of her products from point of origin to the corner store. Whether it’s tools, office supplies or food for our local grocery stores, everything we rely on to build this empire upon, to comfort ourselves with or satisfy a nation’s growing hunger is, at some point, on a truck stuck in traffic on streets that are disappearing beneath their wheels. And what is our current method of dealing with these critical situations?

“Patch and Pray” was first spoken to life by The American Society of Civil Engineers former Executive Director Patrick Natale. He wasn’t just talking about roads. Nope - the American Society of Civil Engineers had issued its report card on America’s total infrastructure and things don’t look so good. For “Patch and Pray”, Natale was referring to local government’s current policy toward fixing serious road, dam and bridge problems. There is no scheduled maintenance – no ten year plan – no step by step strategy…there is only “Patch and Pray”. Do what you can on the things that you can no longer avoid and pray that something else doesn’t fail. Road and bridge failure is reality of our times that is quickly becoming a certainty.
Electrical Grid
Our electrical grid is an archaic monstrosity which mixes fiber optics with metal cabling and copper wire to create an unstable power core that is on the brink of utter collapse. No one who has any affiliation on a professional level with our electrical grid denies that we have powered through, built over and combined technologies that are not only unable to communicate with one another but, in some cases, can cause failure by association with one another. When one set of protocols from the forties touches off another technology from the nineties, watch out!
No one is saying that we could have, at some point, stopped everything and said “let’s tear this all down and rebuild a new infrastructure in its place”. Undoubtedly this was going to occur as technology outpaced existing construction. Something had to give. The problem is not so much that we couldn’t stop and build it all properly. We didn’t stop to talk about co-existing codes of behavior and put a plan in place to marry these technologies. What was fiber optics going to mean to overhead electrical grids? What are we going to do two hundred years from now with spent nuclear fuel rods? At what point do we begin the process of shutting down sections of this out-of-date grid and bear a slight inconvenience for certain reliability in the future?
There were three major recent blackouts in New York City - 1965, 1977 (I was there for that one) and 2003. In 2003, a switch in Ohio overloaded a system that brought down a third of the east coast and plunged New York City into darkness for two days. Enron engineered power consumption, processing enormous overcharges throughout California. Californians stoically reached out to one another during these manufactured travesties to lend aid to the elderly in danger and hospital patients who faced grim conditions during rolling brownouts.
10,000 power plants of all sizes and shapes, from coal and natural gas to nuclear connecting 164,000 miles of power lines, dot a countryside littered with outdated transformers and unmanned control stations. We suffer 200 minutes of blackouts to Japan’s 6. With America’s electrical needs increasing by 20% per year and the ability to repair our existing grid at only 6-8% yearly, you don’t have to be a math whiz to see where this is headed.
Dams
Nobody knows for sure how many dams there are in America but the number is in the tens of thousands. Most of these dams get little if any inspection. Thousands are orphan dams left behind by coal companies that have long since left their coal camps and are no longer supervised. Thousands of levees like those in Louisiana are attended to by local farmers. Hundreds of earthen dams in North Central California are the only thing keeping the ocean from mixing with our fresh water supply in California and contaminating a water supply that would take years to recover.
In Texas there are seven inspectors for 7,400 dams and they inspected only 239 in 2007. Iowa has one full time and one part time inspector for a recorded 3,344 dams (they estimate) and they inspected only 128 in 2007. The list goes on and on. For states like New York and California the numbers are worse - much worse.

Drinking Water

Americans drink more water in a day than all of Africa consumes for any reason in a month. Potable water is a major concern according to The World Health Organization. Some estimates say that one third of earth’s population does not have or has limited access to suitable drinking water. As disturbing as that may be, we are using up this finite resource at an alarming rate. Not because fresh water doesn’t in some ways replenish itself, certainly it does at least in most advanced industrial nations including Europe, United States, Australia and Canada for example, but in many parts of the world it does not. And despite our best efforts water is becoming more important and harder to access in satisfying quantities.

We are consuming more water of poorer quality than ever in our history. More people putting more demands on limited resources and the natural ecological changes in global freshwater distribution make the future of available drinking water frightening. We read about floods consuming towns adjacent polluted rivers like the Mississippi and areas with normally sufficient rainfall experiencing drought; but because we can still turn on our tap and see water flowing we figure everything is okay. It may not be a problem right now but in the next two decades as more people live longer and birth into our growing population all reaching for potable water while surface quantities diminish, water will become big business. It’s the next fossil fuel where we will see extraordinary pricing.

And why is water suddenly an issue? Water in itself is not but pollution by a strained sewage system that is aging rapidly and seeping into our drinking water is a problem! America has to wake up to the fact that keeping Southern California green in lawns and gardens and the lavish, wasteful use of expendable fresh water to green Las Vegas simply cannot continue unchecked.

The average age of the American sewer system is 50 years old. The 85 mile Delaware Aqueduct is 70 years old and provides half the drinking water for New York City. Because it is leaking up from the ground at the rate of 25 million gallons a day it is literally sinking from below the small town of Wawarsing in upstate New York. Because there is no alternative source for shutting the water down, this town will eventually succumb to the rising waters and simply cease to exist. And because 25 million gallons of water a day to a city the size of New York is such a tiny number compared to what the aqueduct delivers, it simply doesn’t make sense to shut it down to fix it. Unfortunately for the big picture thinkers this is a self-correcting problem. Eventually the aqueduct will collapse, at least in the Wawarsing, area and the flow will be stopped by an act of ignorance.

Will we drink our own sewage? Yup. In fact in some countries recovering waste water to provide drinkable water is already a matter of fact. Here in the United States as our sewage system breaks down we will be forced to make that choice. Contaminates in some water are so bad that towns like Maywood, California (just outside Los Angeles) have only brown water to drink. The government tells them it’s safe to drink. Would you drink brown water with a metallic taste?

It sounds like something straight out of The Wizard of Oz…”Sinkholes, Sewage and Bridges, Oh my!” But we are good at listing our problems, if nothing else. Who has solutions?
Rather than going on with all the particulars of America’s decline, I will simply post the 2009 report card given on our infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

2009 Grades
Aviation D
Bridges C
Dams D
Drinking Water D-
Energy D+
Hazardous Waste D
Inland Waterways D-
Levees D-
Public Parks and Recreation C-
Rail C-
Roads D-
Schools D
Solid Waste C+
Transit D
Wastewater D-

America's Infrastructure GPA: D
Estimated 5 Year Investment Need: $2.2 Trillion

The Crime of Redundancy

Sooner than later we will have to put people back to work adding more cars to an already unstable highway system and insufferable gridlock. These expanded commercial areas will be placing more demand on our electrical system and calling for more sewer and water delivery. Dramatically off balance from decades of irreversible fluctuations in everything from market conditions to architecture, stretching our infrastructure thinner is not a solution we can abide.

The biggest crime in all this is not so much our needs but our insufferable ignorance and systematic abuse of the environment and the existing resources at our disposal. The Bosson Group has a plan to reduce the pressure on all these structures and provide immediate temporary relief. Believe it or not we have a program of abatement that will allow us to catch our collective breath and continue to support our economic appetite. We can reorganize and redirect our capital to fix the most badly affected portions of our infrastructure while reducing gridlock, dependency on fossil fuels and the demand for property needs including more unnecessary connections to water, electricity and road wear and tear.

By strategically deploying our telecommuting program, we can intelligently move large sections of Americans to work from home positions. Tethered Communities™ are seamless home to work environments that reduce employer costs, increase productivity and reduce the demand on power and fuel. These awful problems which are compounded by unemployment will become intolerable with a major shift toward employment.

As Americans we will have to face a grim reality and change our selfish “have it your way” attitude. We are going to have to learn to share and play nice with one another. By using Tethered Communities™ we can begin to ease the burden of redundancy. And in the end redundancy is the single largest factor contributing to our crumbling structure.

For more information contact Frank Bosson at frankb@thebossongroup.com or call 209.642.2821.