4% Doesn’t Sound Like Much….
The average is 4% of visible infrastructure is in poor condition. Actually 4-6% depending on the municipality. And this was visible infrastructure, not buried, but there is not particular reason to believe the below ground infrastructure is somehow far worse off. Or better. That 4-6% is infrastructure that needs to be fixed immediately, which means that as system deteriorate, there is catch –up to do. The good news is many of the visible problems were broken meter boxes, damaged valve boxes, broken curbs and broken cleanouts- minor appearing issues, but ones that likely require more ongoing maintenance that a water main. And the appearance may be somewhat symptomatic – people perceive that the system is rundown, unreliable or poorly maintained when they see these problems. It raises a “Tipping Point” type discussion. “Tipping Points” Is a book written by Malcolm Gladwell that I read last year (great book – my wife found it in a book exchange for free in Estes Park last summer). It was along a similar vein of thought as the Freakanomics books – the consequences of certain situations may be less clear than one thinks. The Tipping point that is most relevant is crime in New York in the early 1990s after Bernard Goetz shot several assailants in the subway. The problem was significant and the subways were thought to be among the higher risk areas. The new police chief and Mayor decided that rather that ignore the petty crimes (like many large cities do), they would pursue those vigorously. So fare hopping on the train and the like were challenged immediately. They decided that no graffiti would be visible on the subways and cleaned cars every night to insure this remained the case. Cars with graffiti were immediately removed from service. New subway cars were ordered. Pride and public confidence improved. Crime dropped. The impact of their efforts was that people recognized that criminal behavior would not be tolerated and fairly quickly criminal activity decreased. It was a big success story, but the underlying reasons were less discussed, but easily transferrable to our infrastructure. If we have broken valve boxes, meters, cleanouts, storm drains etc., the same perceptions of a rundown community rise. Rundown communities lead to a loss of public confidence and trust and pride. And none of those help our mission or our efforts to increase infrastructure spending. 4% might not look like much, but it can drastically change the perception of the community. So let’s start to fix those easy things; and document that we did in our asset management programs.