Our at-risk infrastructure desperately needs help, but are we willing to pay the price?

York Dispatch editorial board
  • A bridge collapsed last week in Pittsburgh, injuring 10 people.
  • There are 103 state or local bridges in York County listed in poor condition.
  • The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was recently signed into law.
Emergency vehicles are parked at the edge of a bridge that collapsed, Friday Jan. 28, 2022 in Pittsburgh's East End. A two-lane bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, prompting rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet (46 meters) while others formed a human chain to help rescue multiple people from a dangling bus. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Infrastructure is not a scintillating topic.

It’s not something you’ll see trending on Twitter or debated breathlessly on cable news.

It is, however, something that is vitally important to each of us, whether we realize it or not.

Under the traditional definition, infrastructure includes the basic physical systems of a society, such as transportation systems, communication networks, sewer and water facilities and electric systems.

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To get a true idea about the importance of infrastructure, imagine the following scenarios:

Traveling without roads, bridges and tunnels.

Working from home or educating our children without reliable and affordable internet.

Living comfortably, or even surviving, without sewer, water or electricity.

None of those fundamental activities are possible without a solid infrastructure.

Unfortunately, our nation’s infrastructure is decaying at an alarming rate.

Need proof?

More:Mayor to declare emergency after bridge collapse

The Pittsburgh bridge collapse: Consider last week’s bridge collapse in Pittsburgh that also ruptured gas lines that ran along the bridge.

The cost of that collapse will run into millions of dollars. Even more worrisome, 10 people were hurt and seven vehicles were left in the rubble.

That bridge had been rated in poor condition, just like 103 state and local bridges across York County.

More:York County is home to 103 bridges in poor condition: Here's where they are

That should be a wake-up call to all of us that our infrastructure desperately needs help.

The Pittsburgh incident shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there’s a steep price to be paid when we allow our infrastructure to decay.

Indian Rock Dam: If you want an example of what farsighted infrastructure investment can accomplish, look no further than the 80-year-old Indian Rock Dam, which has saved approximately $55 million in flood damage over the decades.

More:Indian Rock Dam, saving York County from 80 years of floods, gets an upgrade

Thankfully, Indian Rock Dam will soon undergo some major renovation work — paid for with $1 million in federal funding from the five-year, $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Hopefully, that $1 million investment will save us tens of millions of dollars in future flood damage, not to mention possibly saving many lives.

That’s how infrastructure spending should work. You pay a little now to save a lot later.

Build Back Better: The bipartisan infrastructure act that is helping to renovate Indian Rock Dam was a good start, but it was only about a quarter of what President Joe Biden wanted.

Biden’s Build Back Better agenda got sidetracked because he wanted to expand the definition of infrastructure to include items such as social spending and efforts to slow climate change. Those issues are nonstarters for the Republicans who supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which focused on more traditional infrastructure projects.

You can take issue with individual parts of the Build Back Better agenda, but the fight against climate change seems to fall perfectly under the traditional definition of infrastructure. That’s because the single most basic physical system of a sustainable society is a livable climate. Without that, the roads, the bridges and the tunnels will become nothing more than ruins, because there won’t be any humans left to use and maintain them.

Thinking long term: It’s obvious that we desperately need to think long term.

Unfortunately, that type of outlook has increasingly taken a back seat to short-term political grandstanding.

Meanwhile, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate and our planet continues to scream for help.

So, we’re left with a simple choice, really.

You can pay a little now or pay a lot later.

The choice we make will determine the kind of society and planet we leave to our children and grandchildren.