President Trump’s inauguration speech reaffirmed his trillion-dollar plan to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure during his time in office. But cities such as the District must not merely continue repairing existing failing infrastructure that will be useless in a couple of years. Given the opportunity to reinforce and invest in infrastructure,the District should focus on smart and sustainable infrastructure to improve roads, Metro and water and wastewater systems.
The District’s roads are among the most congested in the United States. While the number of miles driven in the District is expected to increase by a modest 14 percent by 2040, the total hours of delay caused by congestion are expected to increase by 43 percent. By investing in the D.C. Department of Transportation’s strategies to manage travel demand and investing in green alternatives such as mass transit, bike lanes, ride-sharing programs and greenways, the District cut down on traffic congestion and pollution. DDOT has also put emphasis on maximizing the potential of all transportation modes, including transit and car share, to stabilize mobility costs for the city and improve the quality of everyone’s commute.
The District has one of the highest uses of biking, walking and public transit for daily commuting in the country, but the area’s public transit system faces an estimated $16 billion funding gap over the next 10 years, even as the area grows and more ridership is expected. The condition of the system and the safety implications of a lack of consistent funding for maintenance continue to be concerns for Metro and its riders. Investing in smart mobility such as public transit is critical to improving the quality of life for citizens while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation section.
The District’s drinking water system entails of 1,350 miles of pipes, which is the same distance as driving from D.C. to Chicago and back. The median age of these pipes is 79 years, well beyond the design lifespan of 50 years. There are typically 400 to 550 water main breaks a year. Instead of merely replacing these pipes, better urban planning with efficient, integrated systems for urban water management and the conservation of water resources should be considered to reduce both water and energy demand in cities.
Infrastructure is the foundation that connects the nation’s businesses, communities and people, driving our economy and improving our quality of life. For the U.S. economy to be the most competitive in the world, we need a first-class infrastructure system: transport systems that move people and goods efficiently and at a reasonable cost by land, water and air and transmission systems that drive industrial processes as well as the daily functions in our homes. Yet today, our infrastructure systems are failing to keep pace with the current and expanding needs and investment in infrastructure is faltering.
While many think improving a country’s transportation system solely means building new roads or repairing aging infrastructures, the future of transportation lies not only in concrete and steel but also increasingly in using information technology. By preparing D.C.’s roads and public transportation for the upcoming shift to smarter cars and public transportation and investing in green infrastructure strategies, the city can lead the way in smart city advancement and sustainability.
Anil Ahuja, an engineer, is the author “Integration of Nature and Technology for Smart Cities.”