The first month of the fall semester has slammed me, which accounts for a little less blog activity on my part. But as fall rolls in many local governments are dealing with final budgets, new projects and dealing with taxes and fees. Students are back to school and industries are looking to the end of the year and 2015. How fast time flies. Our students that graduated last spring all have jobs and half of our seniors that will graduate in December do as well. With engineers or contractors.
The good news is that the economy continues to tick up, construction and construction jobs are back to 2005 levels (which if you recall was a lot), and the stock markets are making money for somebody because they are up as well. Alan Greenspan can complain that housing maybe lagging, but that is more a lack of people having funds or being able to move. Meanwhile construction of projects that were deferred might be addressed? Time will tell but it raises an interesting question – can we plan on growth forever? We assume a continuous growth rate (like 1 or 2% per year), but is that reasonable since it means more people come to an area each year than they did the year before? Works for bacteria, maybe not so much for people. Ask Detroit. Or Cleveland. And does this type of growth create unintended consequences for us? I think this is a good question for a future blog and of course a question that economists and politicians do not want to answer. It would be highly disruptive to our plans. So since it is election season again, we all need to be prepared for the inundation of campaign sales pitches that try to convince us to vote for someone, or more likely to vote against someone. That’s probably not the way it was intended to go, but it’s what politics has degenerated to in so many places. Ideology and adherence to it under any circumstances often prevents us from looking objectively at issues and reaching real solutions, some of which may have winners and losers, but may be necessary to improve long-range forecasts. Listen to the political patter and decide where the plan is.
For example, ignoring the evidence that the climate is changing, places constituents in perilous positions…..in the future. Not now and few climate impacts need drastic immediate action. But longer term, storm sewer will be inadequate, there will be less water stored in glaciers, less rainfall in places (like the southwestern US), more frequent flooding in coastal areas, etc. The problem may be 50 years from now, but wholesale infrastructure programs take that long. It took the US 50 years to build the interstate system. Nearly 40 years to dig canals in south Florida, 20 year to acquire property for a reservoir in North Carolina, etc. Things take time and meanwhile if we need to alter current practice, such as elevating roadways and building to avoid flooding, the time to start is now, not in 50 years when solving that problem is overwhelming. Find those water sources now, so development and competitors can be controlled. Finding water that may take 20 years to secure and construct is an unmanageable issue the year before you need it. You need a plan. Where do you hear that planning?
What about that failing infrastructure? We tend to ignore it until it fails. But if it fails, that can be catastrophic. Engineers and operations personnel know deterioration occurs, and know that it will take time to plan, design and refurbish of replace infrastructure. But projects continue to get deferred for lack of funds. Aggressively planning repair and replacement may actually save money in the long-run, but our planning tends only to be short-term. So how do we change that? Perhaps the state agencies that require local planning to be submitted and approved will push for better evaluation of infrastructure. GASB 34 clearly did not go far enough. Too many communities do not track their work and even fewer document the conditions when they make repairs. Too little data is collected on what fails, when and why. WE can collect huge amounts of data with work orders that track work. Perhaps a regulatory frontier. Or maybe, just maybe, some enlightened managers will decide tracking information is actually fairly easy. The question is the platform. Stay tuned… we are working on that…