Infrastructure Challenges: What Can Be Done? – Podcast

On the latest Standards Impact podcast, experts talk about the state of our roads, highways, and other elements of critical infrastructure.
JP Ervin

It’s no secret that infrastructure is aging. One of the most popular internet searches on the topic is the phrase “poor infrastructure.” Why is this the current state of affairs for our roads, highways, and other critical infrastructure? And what can be done to improve the situation?

On the latest episode of Standards Impact, host David Walsh spoke with infrastructure experts Darrell Sanders (Contech Engineered Solutions) and Phil Blankenship (Blankenship Asphalt Tech and Training) about all things infrastructure. They outlined some of the challenges facing our infrastructure systems. They also spoke about the role of cutting-edge technology and strong standards in helping to usher in a new era of infrastructure.

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Read part of their interview below, and listen to the full episode to learn more about what can be done to improve our infrastructure.


David Walsh: With the overall state of infrastructure in the U.S. and worldwide, is it a problem that can be solved? I won't say easily, but is there a clear solution? Or, is this something where we are so far behind the eight ball that it would take decades no matter what the next step was? 

Phil Blankenship: I get to work with a lot of new materials, and I get to see those materials implemented on a highway. I have to admit, it takes some guts to go out there and take a new material – something that's more than just an additive, something that's going to fundamentally change it – and put it in place. First thing, it takes courage, whether you're an agency or a consulting engineer or a contractor. It takes courage to go out there and try these new materials.

I don't mean do it without understanding. Study up, look at what you're doing, try the new technology, and get it down. But we can't implement new science by writing papers and leaving them on the shelf. You gotta pull it off the shelf and get it onto the roadway.

The other part of that is really good follow up on these materials. One of the hard parts is to evaluate. We tend to watch things for a few years, and then we back off. Our current models that we use for designing pavements aren't set up for new materials. It doesn't mean that we can't use them, it just means that we don't have a button in there. You know, for instance, if I'm using aramid fiber, there's no button that I can click that's going to allow me just to insert fiber.

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However, we do have more fundamental tests where we can understand the modulus or understand these different materials’ properties and begin to put them in. But there are some tests that we're going to run that may not capture what these materials fundamentally do on a higher level, because some of these are testing the limits. I would say the two biggest things holding us back are: 1.) have the courage to try these products, change the status quo. 2.) Get out there and follow up. Let's figure out how we can design and get these into our mainline system.

Darrell Sanders: It's certainly not a lost cause, but it's like anything else. You get results from what you focus on. I think fundamentally, there needs to be more of an emphasis on infrastructure. That starts at the beginning. What have we got? What state is it in? What can we do to repair so that we can extend the service life or what needs to be replaced? It's really just a matter of funding and focus. It's certainly not a lost cause. It's something that we can control. If the amount of funding that we spend on infrastructure tripled for the next 20 years, in 20 years we would be in a much better position than we are today.

All these infrastructure projects take a lot of time and a lot of energy to make fundamental changes to the existing infrastructure. But the sooner you start, the sooner you can catch up. It's just a matter of focus and attention. It does start at the federal level and extends down to the state and municipal level, townships, everything on down the line. But no, it's certainly not a lost cause. We can definitely control our fate in terms of what we're willing to put up with in terms of infrastructure. But if we don't fundamentally change things, then we're gonna continue to have the same issues that we’re experiencing today.

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