Mark Reiner, PhD, PE
Addressing the Infrastructure Decay Rate in US Cities: the case for a paradigm shift in information
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
WISRD contributed a chapter to a new book: Routledge Handbook of Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure
The current paradigm used by municipal governments across the United States is to install new municipal infrastructure with an intended design-life of 80 to 100-years paired with a maintenance plan that replaces the infrastructure on a 200- to 400-year cycle (based on available funds). The ratio between an asset design-life and the replacement cycle of the asset represents an infrastructure ‘decay rate’. This decay rate paradigm, where planned replacement lags significantly behind the actual asset design life, means that cities must be reactive to infrastructure failures (e.g., replacing burst water mains) rather than planning and proactively replacing infrastructure. The current decay rate paradigm persists and is not only dangerous—posing great risk to human life and community well-being—but also costlier to maintain. So, if the current paradigm is costlier to maintain and operate and poses greater risk to human life and property, why then does it persist?
While the Report Card has sparked a conversation about the need to invest in municipal infrastructure, it has done little to provoke alarm at the public level or provide a clear path forward as to how to better communicate the problem. In this chapter, we examine the barriers to change that are preventing utilities and municipal governments from shifting from the decay rate paradigm, which uses a capital investment planning (CIP) process — where the replacement time horizon is three to five times longer than the design life of the infrastructure—to a resilient communications-based paradigm where planners, city decision makers, and the public are provided information to enable informed decisions regarding systems level assessments and prioritize investments that reduce risks and costs while maintaining a high quality infrastructure.