Can a man in a rusted old 1949 Hudson help bring attention to the nation's crumbling infrastructure and help grow interest in funding improvements?
At its opening hearing on reauthorization on Jan. 14, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard urgent calls for a bipartisan approach to sustainable funding, a multi-year program and federal leadership.
The clock is ticking.
Meanwhile, award-winning infrastructure author Dan McNichol has been crisscrossing the United States trying to bring awareness to the challenges facing the nation's aging infrastructure, and what can be done at the state level.
The tour, titled "Dire States: The Drive to Revive America's Ailing Infrastructure," is being done with Case, and McNichol has been making stops at Case dealers and other locations throughout the U.S.
The goal is to bring together citizens, government officials and construction officials, "to identify new and innovative ways to spur the growth and development of American infrastructure, and to showcase projects and communities that are already succeeding at it."
McNichol points to the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. which gives our nation’s infrastructure a D+ and calls for an estimated $3.6 trillion through 2020 to bring our systems up to modern standards.
What’s the danger if we do nothing? In a response to a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, ASCE President Greg DiLoreto states “we will see a drop of $3.1 trillion in GDP by 2020 due to the ripple effect deficient infrastructure has on our nation’s economy.”
Our nation's infrastructure has far-reaching impact on everything from the economy to national security.
So McNichol been doing interviews with media outlets, documenting crumbling infrastructure like a collapsed bridge in Illinois that's forcing soybean farmers to go more than 16 miles out of their way, and more – and keeping up a running log of his travels through his blog, social media and video.
A few weeks ago, civil engineering students at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering got a firsthand lesson in the grim reality of the country’s crumbling infrastructure when McNichol visited a "Professional Practice in Civil Engineering" class.
Why a 1949 Hudson? McNichol calls the beat-down car "the perfect metaphor for our current infrastructure: it’s as old, rusty and energy defunct as our vital systems. Depending on this old car to get you to work everyday is as foolish as depending on our current systems for everything we need to function as a society.”
McNichol talks about the importance of the car as symbol in this video:
A fifth-generation road builder, his pedigree includes McNichol Paving & Construction, which was one of the largest construction companies in the United States in the early 1900s. He cut his teeth working for his father’s construction firm.
He was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. Department of Transportation; worked with the government on Hurricane Andrew relief work; and was a spokesperson for the Big Dig project in Boston.
He has written four books on related topics, including The Roads that Built America, an extensive look at the story behind the building of the U.S. Interstate System, and Paving the Way: Asphalt in America, the “definitive book on roads in America," plus two on the Big Dig.
McNichol has also won the Construction Writers Association’s Robert F. Boger Award for outstanding construction writing for his coverage of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota. He has appeared on countless network and cable news roundtables, and has been published in newspapers around the globe.
Dire States is actually McNichol’s second tour across the United States in a Hudson. The first time, in a ’51 Hudson, served as a book tour for The Roads that Built America.
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio last fall, McNichol gave listeners this advice: "Give a ‘dam’ about your infrastructure. Find out what is ailing your town – you probably already know. And then figure out the solution, what is a possible cure? And then find the leadership. It could be your department of public works chief, it could be you, it could be the mayor … And then find out how to fix it. Hold those leaders accountable, but inform them, work with them. Don’t just blame them, or just ask them to do something or gripe, get involved with the solution. And I think it becomes a really powerful experience."
Watch McNichol talk about the project in a video:
The tour will culminate a month from now at one of the world's largest construction industry trade shows, ConExpo, March 4-8 in Las Vegas.
For more information on the tour and an updated list of dates and events, visit www.DireStates.com