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Pennsylvania infrastructure must improve

For months, but what to most Americans might seem like years, the word “infrastructure” has been running a close second to “COVID-19” and its horrible toll of sickness and death.

Now that President Joe Biden has signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, much center-stage attention has begun giving way to the president’s roughly $2 trillion healthcare, education and climate-change package that remains some distance away from final resolution and a presidential signature.

But, like it or hate it, what has transpired on the infrastructure front, the topic demands important additional consideration from an aspect that did not receive much public discussion leading up to last Monday’s signing ceremony.

In its Tuesday edition, the Wall Street Journal discussed that aspect at length under the headline “U.S. Infrastructure struggles with new weather forecast; heat, rain overwhelm systems designed to withstand old climate patterns.”

“Across America, historically anomalous weather is overwhelming infrastructure and government systems designed to withstand the weather of the past, forcing cities and utilities to rethink resiliency plans,” the article said.

The article began with mention of the 22-foot-high floodwall that was supposed to protect a water treatment facility near the Schuylkill River from a storm categorized as a 100-year event. However, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered the area near Philadelphia in September, the 18-inch-thick wall proved to be no match for the record rains that inundated the area.

Meanwhile, according to the Journal, the city of Miami Beach is spending approximately $1 billion on a plan to raise roads, lift sea walls and install new pump stations to deal with the more-intense downpours that the city has been experiencing in recent years.

Also in the eastern part of the nation, specifically in New York City, climate-resiliency investments have been targeted in large part to addressing vulnerabilities to coastal storm surge highlighted by superstorm Sandy in 2012. And, in California, drought conditions have revealed the fragility of the state’s inter-related power and water systems.

The message stemming from the Journal’s detailed look into what the future might hold is that planners who will be deciding how exactly to allocate the money their states and communities will be receiving under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act need to delve deeply beyond the structural basics of roads, bridges and water systems.

They will need to study carefully the potential negative impacts — weather and any other — on those new assets and ensure that those possible impacts are taken into full account in the construction and renovation plans that are forthcoming.

The Altoona Mirror has reported the new federal infrastructure bill will bring billions of dollars to Pennsylvania through formula allocations and that the state, a primary funding recipient, will be able to seek competitive grants for other programs.

“In a number of areas, the new federal money comes on top of existing federal aid,” the article says.

Ida exposed an unanticipated vulnerability; California, for one, also is experiencing new challenges.

Planners in our region and across Pennsylvania must capitalize on knowledge emanating from what others have done wrong.

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