Making our infrastructure second to none
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President-elect Trump, on election night, you promised cheering supporters, “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”

As we move from the script of campaigning to the act of execution, you may find a more challenging landscape than your statement belies.  That’s not because you won’t endeavor to achieve nor that Congress won’t collaborate with you to fund. But the challenge of bringing the United States back to a “top 10” infrastructure position in the world, much less number one, is one that many have tried and failed and that could, in present reality, undermine the solvency of our Nation.

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In the span of the decade that precedes your Administration, we have fallen from 1st place in Global Competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, to between 3rd and 7th place. This has been attributed in great part to the decades-long decline in the viability and competitiveness of our national infrastructure. (We’ve not even been in the top 10 of transportation infrastructures for several years).

More to the point, to keep up with expected infrastructure decline, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates we’ll need to spend $3.6 trillion just in the next five years. This estimate doesn’t get us to 1st place, this just keeps us from failing further!

Why has this issue of infrastructure become such a burden to competitiveness and our deficit? For one thing, if we continue rehabilitating our infrastructure as we have, our Nation will be stuck installing and repairing infrastructure using outdated technology from the 1930s.

Today, through the Departments of Transportation at state and federal levels, the regulatory frameworks for materials of construction define requirements that, in most cases, were set several decades to almost a century ago. For a case in point, hot-dipped galvanizing, one of the most commonly used corrosion resistant coatings technologies in the world, was specified in 1928. This specification (ASTM A123) is still actively required by most state and federal DOTs around the country. Epoxy-coated rebar, considered a “new” and now widely specified technology, was finally specified for use in the 1970s, and that only after over 20 years of field trials and testing.

As these regulations are defined as a snapshot in time - focusing on how the materials are manufactured instead of how they should perform - new technologies that offer better performance and cost advantages can’t currently qualify for major infrastructure programs. And, since it takes about 17 years to take a new technology through the regulatory specification cycle, most innovative technologies fail to ever reach beyond the test phase, much less to ever achieve full scale deployment.

Using these last-century manufacturing techniques means we have to use more metal and spend more, when more durable and safer innovation would work. It means that now and for the foreseeable future, infrastructure requires more frequent replacement or the possibility of major failure when degradation and corrosion set in.

Why is it so important we employ the best-available metals technology? Because corrosion is a quiet infrastructure killer. Corrosion degrades – sometimes catastrophically. When you read about bridge collapses and unsafe structures, think corrosion. Corrosion is a budget-buster – using lower quality metals which corrode quickly creates a ruinous cycle of more maintenance and faster required replacement of our infrastructure. The National Association of Corrosion Engineers pegs the direct cost of corrosion in the U.S. at over 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of our Nation.

Innovative companies across our Nation have answered the call to improve America’s infrastructure by reinventing the metals industry. As an example, our nanolaminated metals – using a different manufacturing technique than traditional metals – corrode significantly less, are stronger and lighter, and can require less energy and materials to produce. At Modumetal, we have demonstrated structures that resist corrosion thirty times longer for the same basic cost as the currently-specified materials. This means our bridges could last hundreds of years instead of decades. The net result: safer, longer-lasting infrastructure for less money.

Mr. President-Elect, you have the opportunity now to work with Congress to approve legislation that incentivizes industries to use innovative materials of construction, based on safer performance-based specifications. Such legislation could provide an incentive tax credit for technologies that extend the life and performance of our infrastructure, thus encouraging competition and adoption of best-performing, lowest-cost, state-of-the-art corrosion mitigation technologies for our Nation’s infrastructure and industrial applications.

You don’t have to accept the status quo, and I hope that our Government will work together to seek and take on the challenge of innovating, to achieve a national infrastructure that is second to none, at a price that will be sustainable for generations.

Christina Lomasney is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of Modumetal, Inc., a Seattle-based nanolaminated metals company.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.