It’s National Park Week, the Senate passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, and more suggestions for improving infrastructure through technological innovation have been floating around the week’s news headlines.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service. According to National Geographic, the National Park maintenance backlog has reached nearly $12 billion, the worst in the system’s history. It is important to invest in our nation’s national parks not only because they are popular, but because of the economic value they offer. In March, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the National Park Service Centennial Act, which would provide nearly $50 million annually for national park needs. Also, the energy bill that the Senate just passed, would add $25 million for these park projects as well as $150 million for deferred park maintenance needs. While these funding initiatives are a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done to protect and maintain our National Park System for the next 100 years.
This week was also a big one for aviation as the Senate finally passed the FAA Reauthorization Bill. House leadership must now decide whether to try to amend the Senate’s bill to more closely resemble Rep. Shuster’s bill, which includes air traffic control privatization, or to pass a less controversial version of the bill. The current extension of FAA runs until July 15. An op-ed in The Hill expands upon the importance of modernizing our airports to make sure they can accommodate increased passenger and cargo demand. The article also suggests that modernizing the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee would be a good step in that direction, as it would allow more local control thereby making airports less reliant on increasingly limited federal funds. Unfortunately neither the House nor Senate bill adjusts the PFC.
Aside from addressing National Parks and aviation, there have been a few articles this week exploring the potential of technology and innovation in improving our infrastructure. The TransitCenter and Center for Neighborhood Technology just released a new interactive tool called AllTransit, which collects data from more than 800 transit agencies into a comprehensive set of metrics and maps that break down public transportation opportunities by census block. All of this information is then collected into a performance score between one and 10, revealing the conditions of the nation’s transit agencies.
An article in Fusion magazine also outlined the role of technology in addressing our infrastructure problems, exploring the idea of developing tools to keep our cities from deteriorating further. In Los Angeles, a group of public sector technologists have banded together to try and solve the city’s infrastructure problems using home-grown tools like sewer drones and traffic dashboards. Innovative ideas like these are also highlighted in ASCE’s GameChangers report, which shows how communities across the country have developed solutions to infrastructure challenges.
In order to innovate and improve our infrastructure needs nationwide, it is important that local, state and federal governments work together to find long-term, sustainable funding that will allow for such improvement.