What’s Next: Infrastructure

The nation’s infrastructure faces a grim future. Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers looked at bridges, roadways, drinking-water systems, and other civic works and graded them a cumulative D. Getting to a B, ASCE estimated, will cost $2.2 trillion over the next five years. (President Obama’s less than $100 billion stimulus was a mere down payment.) So while we wait for a golden egg to drop from the sky, let’s consider technological innovations that can ease, if not fix, the mighty task at hand. Andrew Herrmann, chair of the advisory council for the ASCE’s report card, describes materials and methods that will improve our infrastructure’s longevity, reduce maintenance costs, and maybe head off disaster.

ONE year:

HIGH-STRENGTH STEEL
“They’ve worked with the chemical composition to make it tougher, so it is more resistant to cracks. It’s expensive, but it’s becoming more and more available.” —A.H.

FIVE years:

SELF-HEALING CONCRETE
“A professor at the University of Michigan, Victor Li, has come out with a self-healing concrete. With his mixture, if there is a crack in a roadway deck and it gets wet, then dry, a couple times, there’s additional cement paste in the mixture that starts closing up that crack. Think of a cut on your hand. After it heals, it has a little scar. That’s what this would do.” —A.H.

TEN years:

BRIDGE-MONITORING DEVICES
“The replacement for the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis is gauged upside down and sideways. They have embedded gauges for determining cracks, temp-erature differentials, and stress levels in several areas of the bridge, so they can actually monitor it under real-life conditions.” —A.H.

 
What’s Next: The 1-5-10 Issue
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