For at least a decade engineers have warned of America’s crumbling infrastructure. While the nation isn’t funding as many infrastructure projects as it needs, a steady stream of infrastructural projects gets the green light each year. These projects hold the promise of sustainable business for contractors and improved resilience for the nation.
8 Key Types of Infrastructure Projects
Governments fund most infrastructure construction projects, making public money a prerequisite. The eight key types of infrastructure projects show just how complex and vast the market is.
Managers in cities, towns and counties deal with the bulk of America’s solid waste, and you’d be surprised at the volume they handle. From food, yard, business, industrial, construction, and packaging waste to discarded household appliances, America’s solid waste stream is huge. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been examining the subject for more than 30 years, reported that in 2017 alone folks in the U.S. discarded 4.5 pounds of waste per day, per person. The grand total that year was 268 million tons.
Solid waste infrastructure projects include not only building landfills but also closing and retrofitting them. Each landfill has multiple aspects like recycling centers, access roads, diversion berms, stormwater ponds, culverts, and sludge dewatering beds. When public officials close landfills, they often outfit them with methane collection technology. Sometimes, they even repurpose them for recreational use. Both events lead to extra infrastructure projects for construction companies.
The people in Brookings, South Dakota got two infrastructural projects underway this spring. The first will open up a new 5.5-acre disposal cell with a leachate collection sump. The city is also closing out one of its disposal areas by capping it to prevent stormwater infiltration. Contractors will move 200,000 cubic yards of soil to complete both projects.
When you need to talk to someone, they’re just a few keystrokes away, no matter where you are geographically. That wasn’t always the case. Not that long ago people on the move had to search for phone booths or knock on someone’s door when they needed to contact someone.
Nowadays, your totally connected life depends on communications infrastructure. Modern communications rely on a backbone of equipment, satellites, poles, towers, and wiring. Contractors of many types must install and maintain this infrastructure.
Fourth-generation cellular, or 4G, was all the rage five years ago. Today, with the rollout of 5G, people can see speeds at least three times faster on the low end and up to 62% faster on the high end. However, much of the world is still a long way from having 5G connections. Some want simple reliability.
Madison County Texas would be happy enough if its emergency calls didn’t face “dead zones.” That’s why it’s spending $200,000 to link its communications system to the Brazos Valley Wide Area Communications System. By doing so, they’ll also link the sheriff’s department, police department, the county’s three volunteer fire departments, and all other first responders to first responders in surrounding counties.
Cellular is just one aspect of communications infrastructure. The country’s existing analog telephone service still serves about 46% of the population. Cable also handles communications chores by delivering both phone and internet services. And, you’ll find many line-of-sight technologies using radio waves that provide telephone and internet.
Hazardous Materials Treatment
When you talk about hazardous waste sites none is more famous than Hanford. The U.S. government produced enough plutonium for 60,000 nuclear weapons there and created 212 million liters of toxic waste. Today, prime contractor Bechtel at the DOE’s Office of River Protection at Hanford describes it as “the largest of its kind in the world.”
Underground sits 53,000,000 gallons of toxic waste waiting to be turned into a stable glass that can be stored safely forever. This infrastructure construction project covers 65 acres and current estimates say it will cost $16.8 billion to finish it.
While Hanford has a monumental scale all its own, it is eclipsed by the 1,335 Superfund hazardous waste sites across the country and another 45 under consideration. Then there are the pipeline leaks, spent batteries, hydraulic fracturing leachate, coal power plant scrubber materials, and countless hazardous waste mistakes that will eventually need to get cleaned up. These infrastructure projects require nearly every kind of construction skill, especially project management, and when they are most critical, there is always money to get them done.
Old and New Energy
Infrastructure projects for power include all the traditional types like gas, coal, and nuclear plants. But, an array of new types has appeared. Solar, wind, geothermal, giant batteries, hydrogen and other types that don’t rely on fossil fuels provide a regular source of new infrastructure projects for producing or storing energy. Small renewable projects are filtering down to small communities, providing continuing work for local contractors.
The Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota will build a “net-zero” power project for a community near Red Wing. The project will rely on five-megawatt solar arrays. It will have a self-contained distribution system with battery storage. Geothermal heating and cooling are other project aspects.
The International Energy Agency expects hydropower to meet 16% of the world’s energy needs by 2023. While many consider hydro a renewable energy, there has been controversy surrounding it because of its environmental effects. Construction of these infrastructural projects affects expansive landscapes and ecosystems. Projects often go through lengthy approval processes and get derailed quickly where they harm human habitat.
One notable project in the U.S. is at an existing dam on Iowa’s Des Moines River. Ames Construction is the general on the 36.4-megawatt station. When completed this year, the plant will power about 18,000 homes.
Infrastructure transportation projects include airports, seaside ports, rail terminals, bus terminals, passenger rail lines, and all the necessary structures and equipment to make them work. Such infrastructure usually relies heavily on public money, although new delivery methods like public-private partnerships are breathing life into the sector where public money is in short supply.
While the big transportation projects get a lot of press, you will find countless minor projects intended to improve passenger safety and experience. One such project in the Washington D.C. area is now providing uninterrupted cellular service to passengers on trains even when in tunnels. This project came about when a passenger died of smoke inhalation largely because 911 operators couldn’t hear passengers’ calls for help.
From streets to highways, everyday users have a love-hate relationship with these infrastructure projects. While laying down a new road is costly, the maintenance is never-ending. That’s why more and more roadway infrastructure projects are leaning toward tolls to fund upkeep.
Florida is the toll road capital of the U.S. with about 700 miles of fee-collecting corridors. Public-private partnerships increasingly fund construction and maintenance of toll roads. The builder manages the roadways and keeps the tolls in return for funding much of the construction.
However, there’s more to roadway construction projects than just the road surface and shoulders. Turn lanes, markings, traffic cameras, street lights, barriers, ramps, signage, and even communications infrastructure make up even the simplest of projects.
Indiana’s ITR Push 2.0 Project improved customer safety and experience on the toll road. It included 44 lane miles of pavement, four interchanges, and improvements to 16 bridges. Proponents also said the improvements would mean the road wouldn’t need as much maintenance.
Without bridges, most roads would end abruptly. Of the 230,000 bridges in the U.S., crews need to replace or make major repairs to about a quarter of them. That’s a lot of infrastructure construction work, including work on ramps, pilings, riverbanks, and all the adjacent landscapes.
About this time last year, crews finished up a Pennsylvania bridge project over the Lehigh River providing congestion relief to about 91,000 motorists every day. For a year and a half drivers from both directions were forced to share just one bridge as the $68 million project rolled its way to completion.
Why Are Infrastructural Projects Important?
The nation’s infrastructure directly affects its productivity. For every year the nation’s infrastructure is subpar, an average American family loses $3,400 in disposable income every year. If nothing is done soon, the U.S. GDP will lose $3.9 trillion by 2025 and 2.5 million jobs.
Infrastructural projects represent the rebuilding of the country’s backbone. This is work that offers construction contractors the chance to make a difference while making a living.