An open Letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence about our Infrastructure

America, “God shed his grace on thee”. Indeed it is so. We are one of only a few governments in this world which holds, within its borders, the wealth of raw materials to sustain our people. This is a magnificent and important concept. It saved the world during the great world wars and it has reached around the globe and elevated the level of prosperity of all mankind.

For reasons that sometimes escape the writer, we have long set aside our elemental needs as a nation, to focus, instead on those of others. We pay their way into the United Nations. We offer money for friendship in the guise of diplomacy. Over and over, we enter countries, mess with them, then rebuild their entire infrastructure. Lately we have not even pretended to require retribution for our efforts. We are seen as a sea of money to the world, as patsies.

There are reasons for spending money to improve the lot of others. It may be simply the right thing to do such as the clean water effort in Africa. Money may, I suppose, be an elemental part of diplomacy, yet, since Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates, it has failed time and time again. It usually does, and it usually will. People resent such gifts.

Since early in the 1900’s we have ignored major elements of our infrastructure, incorporating and expanding systems without significant repair or rebuild. Always, there was a more immediate need, a more important cost. Now, we are at a critical state and have outgrown many of these systems. We must address our ancient and failing infrastructure.

DAMS:

We have a horrifying situation in the United States, which presents a clear and present danger to the public and to our nation. In northern Virginia alone, thousands of lives would be lost with the failure of a single high-hazard dam, airports, schools, parks, and thousands of homes, washed away without a trace in moments. There are about four thousand dams in Virginia alone, with a similar number in each, North and South Carolina. The hazards that they produce to the public are similar. Most of these structures fail to meet current standards for safety. Each state has thousands of dams of varying size and liability, dependent on the relief and impoundment of the particular dam and the development of the inundation zone beneath. Dams probably produce the largest public safety liability in the U.S. because of the number of deaths and the depth of losses that they can produce.

BRIDGES:

Our bridges are in disrepair. They, like our dams, were build during the industrial revolution, and are reaching the ends of their design lives. Most can be saved with a cost of a fraction of the cost of replacement – but only if we act to make these repairs. If they are allowed to fail, the cost of the new bridge that replace these many historically and architecturally significant structures will be ten fold, perhaps a hundred.

UTILITIES:

We have allowed our cities to become dependent on support that has become strained, tenuous, and ancient. We are dependent on electrical distribution and truck traffic at street level.

You, Mr. President, know New York City as well as anyone. Imagine what the grand city would look like in only a week without power and surface transportation. A singular seismic event could easily bring such a calamity. We must plan cities systems, and repair and rebuild.

We must have power backup segregated from the threats of internet connections. I am aware of the great planning that has taken place in cities such as New York, but we both know what threats exist, and the realities of their realization on the lives of so many, and the very character of our nation.

Many of our cities have water lines that are near or even exceeding 100 years of service. Sanitary sewers sometimes communicate with storm sewers, overwhelming treatment in times of high levels of rain. All is a weak point in a seismic event. All would produce an untenable situation in an urban environment.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

All who travel internationally understand our grand failure, as a nation in public transportation. When the words “public transportation” are used, it instills in the reader a vision of filth, graffiti, and concern for one’s personal safety. Europe and Asia have lead to show us that it may not be so.

We must develop and construct fast rail and other methods of transportation that are safe, clean, fast, and that will cater to business people. Many opportunities present themselves to us, to develop a web of fast transport within cities and from urban area to urban area, with convenience and safety. Autonomous vehicles are coming, electrical vehicles are becoming viable.

SURFACE (roadway) TRANSPORTATION:

This failure of traffic and transportation systems, in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and L.A. cost untold millions of dollars daily. These losses are only realized in an aggregate degradation of corporate profitability. They are difficult to quantify, but they are real and they are great. Roadways and proper conveyance of people and materials within and without urban environments must be deeply considered with plans that project out for decades.

ELECTRICAL TRANSMISSION:

The high-tension electrical grid, an ever-increasing spider web of wire carrying current up to primary transmission at 765,000 Volts AC across this great nation. It is obvious and it is easy. A fool with a slingshot and a piece of wire can cause an elemental failure. A small squad of organized terrorists could bring the whole down in an extended area. Cyber attack is the biggest threat because it does not even require physical action.

Each generation point must be brought up, on phase, to contribute to the whole, and a significant off-phase contributor, with safety jumped out, could destroy large parts of the whole. Over powering, over-speed, and off-phasing can be done by a teenager with a laptop in Kansas or China. Many valid safeties are in place, but, again, the introduction of internet, intentional or unintentional, can allow a back door to a hacker with malice of intent.

The next great military attack against the United States will be preceded by a cyber attack of grand proportion.

Our electrical transmission must be protected physically, and by back-feed. Lines must be isolated and monitored and in certain areas must be buried in vaults and hardened.

INTERNET:

The internet with its ever-evolving web of wire, satellite, and radio transmission, presents an attractive target to many who seek to damage us. I will not discuss, here, the significant efforts and success of the DOD and others to develop isolated threads that successfully (we hope) segregate the communications in battle and calamity. I believe that it may be prudent to address the need for intercommunication of electrical, internet, and other communications, and consider cost/value of the initiation of a secondary web insulated and isolated for only such communications and controls of elements of our infrastructure.

WATER:

Water and transmission of water is an evolving issue of great importance. It is the greatest challenge of the coming few decades. Our water presents a significant and attractive target for terror. The lack of sufficient water, particularly in the southwest, requires that the systems of retention and transmission of this resource be considered and protected tenaciously. Consideration must be made for the eventual transmission of water, as a resource from areas of plenty to areas of need within our nation. Water quality, particularly regarding nitrogen loading, needs to be better addressed and managed. These nitrates, which pollute and damage water quality, produce algae blooms, and toxins, are the very thing needed in the farmlands to reconstitute the fertile soils of our nations. Besides the loss of quality of surface water, these lost nitrates are stripping our farmland of its fertility. We must consider methods to re-distribute waste and nitrogen rich concentrations back to the soil.

AIR TRAVEL:

The current computer systems of the FAA are old and slow. In spite of the liabilities, air travel and air traffic control have continued to be safe and well managed. Many of our major airports have difficult and congested approaches (such as Newark N.J.) that make flying them a challenge. The airports, such as LaGuardia, are dirty, old, and indicative of a nation that is on the verge of failure. Flying into Dubai from LaGuardia – what is your impression of the two nations? The FAA has done much with little for a long time. Much more must be done. With DGPS and the approaches that they allow, we can adopt more easily-flown approaches and safer airports. Aircraft become much more simple for the pilot work load, allowing for increased vigilance. We must not lose rural airports, we must build modern and safe in-city and near city airports. We must make our airports clean and beautiful. The world sees us through our airports first. We must make them a welcoming experience, and maintain safety and efficient movement of passengers and corporate aircraft.

WATER TRANSPORTATION OF GOODS:

Canals were an integral part of the building of our great nation. Few Presidents had an administration where a canal was not constructed, widened, locked, or expanded. It has been a part of our history – a forgotten part. Our intercoastal waterway is silted in and nearly impassible. The canals lie forgotten – a historical footnote of a time gone by.

No method of conveyance of goods, not truck, not train, not plane, can begin to meet the economy of transpiration of diverse dry bulk goods by water. We must reconsider our waterways, locks, and canals, maintain and upgrade, and make them viable again. With the United States again producing goods, and consuming goods from around the globe, our waterways will, again, act as a cost-effective conveyance of these materials to and from the markets of the world.

Much of the land of our great nation is touched by navigable waterways, canals, lakes, and our great rivers. We must, again commit to the maintenance of these corridors of trade. The United States of America has approximately 40,230 Km of waterways. Of these, 19,310 are inland waterways, and 20,920 are coastal waterways. Heavy bulk materials are best suited to this kind of transport.

Cost is significantly less than other methods of transport for cost per ton of goods per Kilometer transited they are; Road @ $310. Rail @ $29. Air transport @ $1,107.. and waterway @ $10. Only a pipeline can convey liquids more efficiently at $9. (ref. ILS2016 6th Int. Conference)

I imagine a system evolving where containers are loaded off from cargo ships onto small businesses’ canal barges and delivered to our many inland ports, returning with manufactured goods to be shipped out to the world.

COST:

The cost of needed upgrades of infrastructure are great. They are easily escalated through special interest involvement like the engineering lobby. The smell of money brings the great interest of those who would take advantage. If we are to be cost effective in the completion of these projects it shall require:

  1. Careful cost/benefit analysis – this includes the consideration of both cost and human suffering that the associated liability of a particular element poses. As important, perhaps, as the element of public safety is the value of the repairs to our infrastructure. It is prudent and honorable to do a cost analysis of these works to produce a real and accountable return on investment for the costs expended. It is true that some are a cost expended against the possibility of a conceptual event. It is nonetheless reasonable to apply cost and probability of such event and to incorporate that into the evaluation of the expenditure.
  2. Reasonable and considered engineering – There is a place for art and beauty in architecture. Beauty and grand engineering need not come into being by abandoning fiscal responsibility. If we are to address these problems in the environment that we now enjoy, we must look at every dollar spent and every consideration for producing maximum return for each dollar so expended.
  3. Honorable and accountable procurement – Each dollar spent is a dollar that is not available for the many other important and previously neglected parts of our budget. (not to mention debt service) These costs must be watched by men who are giving to future generations. This work needs not to be a large contract awarded to some huge company who did “a favor”. This needs to be an organized and proper procurement overseen by men who submit themselves to scrutiny regularly, to forestall any sense of corruption. With the responsible procurement, by many small projects across the nation, the secondary effect of job creation and economic stimulus will be accentuated and immediate.

So much is, at last, being considered. So much is improving. I am happy and excited to share in the conversation, to be a part of America’s renewal. There is much to be done. Let us not digress to the failed evolution of the past, and move forward toward a better tomorrow, to build a clean, safe, efficient infrastructure to support the greatest nation on this earth to move forward, again, as the leader of mankind.

Scott Cahill

Watching a Great Nation, as it Dies

 

I once dreamed of building great structures as I nailed blocks of wood together that my father brought me from construction sites. You see, my father, too, was a builder. There are two kinds of men in this world, those who build, and those who destroy. Building is a tedious and difficult action. Destruction is simple.

Things that were built with great difficulty and planning, may be cast to dust in an instant. These buildings, bridges, dams, and roadways across our great Nation were built by a sea of men, who worked in the heat and cold with hammers and wrenches. The whole is incomprehensibly complex. It is an insurmountable task. Like eating an elephant, it was done one bite at a time. Now, we sit and watch as it slowly crumbles.

In a cemetery, there are rows of stones. They mark the plots where caskets lie in the ground, lives gone, buried, forgotten, but for a name on a granite marker and the memories of those who live on. It is so for the builder, too. Our monuments are bridges and tunnels, power plants, and dams. The work is hard, the life is hard, but the monuments are magnificent.

Still, time is the enemy of all that is standing. She is uncaring and unkind. She drops her shroud across it all. Time has taken from man the great Roman works. The ruins are left to amaze the onlooker at the wonders gone, aqueducts, coliseums, cobble roadways that once connected the greatest empires, reduced, at last to a tourist destination.

She looks now upon the great works of our fathers. Will some strange men come one day and stand in front of a great iron bridge, half-collapsed in Pittsburgh, and take a picture, reading a plaque about the civilization that once existed at the meeting of these three great rivers? The ghosts of riveters and men of steel look on, as we desecrate their work. They cry in the night as once-great structures become slums at the hands of men who do not value quality, or aesthetics.

I was a boy, once, in Salem, Ohio. Salem is a little city. Once it stood at the crossroads of great industry. On the tracks of steel that connected the east to the west. Still I hear the sounds of the great engines as they churn through the night. I was born to them. I will die to them. They are a part of me, as is every nail and bolt that holds together countless elements of buildings and plants, bridges, and dams.

Salem is different now, time changes all. Salem now has little industry. Great tradesmen have been replaced by the desperate and the corrupt, like parasites on a dying animal, they care not for their host. Much of the good is gone, the mills, the tradesmen, the construction. Salem waits for time, to cast her shroud over the architecture of the city. Buildings with ornate facades, mortar crumbling, stained glass windows, falling from rotting frames, beauty becoming ugly, as the corrupt look on for opportunity.

I left Salem long ago. I left her to fend for herself, as I went to build. I thought that it would be here waiting for me to return, unchanged, intact, whole. Alas, time has taken over. She sneaked in as I moved on and decimated my home. We battle, but one man cannot win in a fight with time. She is patient.

It takes all of us, every hand, every voice, to stand up against time, to stand up against corruption, to stand up against government gone awry. It takes every man to think, to understand, to work, and to protest, to change the failings of our nation. There is no time to rest in a democracy. For, democracy is not a normal state of man. Totalitarianism is the normal state of man. Always, democracy requires effort and action to be maintained. Always, in the void of inaction, totalitarianism shall take over with its insidious evolution.

This is what has become of Salem. It has slipped into a state of despair and corruption from which, perhaps, it cannot be retrieved. Our nation, too, is frought with corruption. It is reeling from the losses of freedom, it subordinates itself to oligarchic elements. Shall we all rise up now to fix what is broken, or will we keep quiet, as freedom after freedom are stripped from us, until at last, there remains nothing of so grand a state, but despair, and fear?

The question is this; Salem, Ohio, or the United States, the problem and its symptoms are the same. Shall we rise up as men and build, again, the crumbling elements of our cities, of our nation, or shall we look away and hope that time is kind, and lets us pass, before the inevitable descends upon our children, to fight the enemies that we failed to address? The choice is this; fight, or fail. There is no other call.

If you wonder, what is at risk? It all is at risk. If you wonder, how far will some go to erode the freedoms of men? There is no limit and no end to the efforts of evil. Are we men who can face discomfort and conflict, or cowards, who hide at confrontation?

Scott Cahill