To modernize Canada’s public infrastructure – every bridge needs a switch

Public infrastructure is a key driver of a nation’s success, particularly for a prosperous economy like Canada.

Infrastructure plays an essential role in supporting global economic competitiveness (trade corridors), safety and security (borders), public health (water, housing), environmental protection (clean air, clean energy and public transit).

As Infrastructure Canada put it, “Modern and efficient public infrastructure is key to supporting the Nation’s most important economic and environmental goals and to building strong and prosperous communities.” (See how you can help the Federation of Canadian Municipalities fight Canada’s infrastructure woes with the Great Canadian Infrastructure Challenge”.)

More than $48B was allocated between Building Canada Plan and Canada’s Economic Action Plan to provide some much needed long-term investment to upgrade and revitalize Canada’s infrastructure (2007 – 2014). With the end of this funding coming near, a new Long-Term Infrastructure Plan is being prepared that would continue the investment in Canada’s infrastructure.

Now, this topic calls for several interesting blog posts. Not the least of which is one about the fact that an investment in broadband and technology infrastructure isn’t actively considered as a lever to achieving the greatest impact on economic prosperity. But, I’ll leave that one for a future post.

Today, I thought to link this great investment and continued pursuit of infrastructure modernization to bridges … and the role of ICT (whereby “bridge” is not a technology term, but merely a reference to concrete or steel structure that allows passage across a physical obstacle). Please bear with me…

In North America there are more than 685,000 bridges, 80,000 of them in Canada. 30% of highway bridges in Canada are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. $5B would be required per annum for the renewal of Canada’s bridges. With limited funding, the question is where to start yet have the greatest impact.

I believe there is a clear application for information technology to support our network of bridges, for every bridge to have switches, sensors, and surveillance and become another node of the Internet of Everything.

The possible benefits are almost limitless. With an investment in broadband and networks as one of Canada’s pivotal infrastructures, can we maybe also reduce the traffic on these bridges? Can we commute and travel less through the application of advanced collaboration, while increasing interactions that drive economic opportunity and business transactions? Can we reduce and spread congestion and therefore re-distribute the bridges’ utilization and structural stress?

With the appropriate monitoring (sensors, video, analytics), investment decisions can be prioritized based on demand requirements, utilization, and condition. In addition to the appropriate measurement and prioritization of renewal back-log, a Smart+Connected Bridge can also predict its lifecycle and provide analytical evidence for timely interim upgrades and repairs that will have a positive impact on the technical and functional lifespan—confidently postponing the need for capital intense renewal projects.

There is a huge opportunity in this area. NRC Canada estimates that only 0.1% of all highway bridges are instrumented yet suggests that the technology already has proven to work. What’s holding us back? Lack of available qualified data management personnel, the fear of “big data”, and the absence of necessary re-alignment of investment from concrete and paint into technology.

With targeted investments in Smart+Connected Bridges, we can not only provide economic opportunity for a new industry, but also optimize and eventually minimize the investments needed in our bridging infrastructure.

And we might all get to work faster. That sounds good to me.

About Rick Huijbregts

As Vice President, Smart Connected Communities, Rick Huijbregts leads the development of Cisco Canada’s Smart Connected Communities practice including Smart Connected Real Estate. Huijbregts is responsible for accelerating the growth of this industry in Canada. Huijbregts holds a bachelor’s degree in construction management from the Tilburg Polytechnical University in the Netherlands, a master’s degree in real estate development and project management from Delft University in the Netherlands, and a doctorate from Harvard University with a specialization in real estate technology and investment management. En tant que vice-président, Communautés Smart+Connected, Rick Huijbregts est chargé de l’expansion de Communautés Smart+Connected de Cisco Canada, y compris de Smart+Connected Real Estate. À ce titre, il lui incombe de stimuler la croissance de cette industrie au Canada. M. Huijbregts détient un baccalauréat en gestion de construction de l´université polytechnique de Tilburg, aux Pays-Bas, une maîtrise en aménagement immobilier et en gestion de projet de l´université de Delft, aux Pays-Bas, ainsi qu´un doctorat de l´université Harvard avec spécialisation en technologie immobilière et en gestion de placements.
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2 Responses to To modernize Canada’s public infrastructure – every bridge needs a switch

  1. Victor Poudelet says:

    Hi,
    what is your reference for the information about Canadian bridges condition ? It’s interesting to see how much investment we need.

  2. Rick Huijbregts says:

    Hi Victor,

    Thank you for your inquiry.

    There are several sources for this blog, which include: Canada’s Infrastructure Deficit a sad legacy for future generations (http://www.amm.mb.ca/PDF/Magazine/Winter2009/SR-legacy.pdf), Funding Canada’s $400B Infrastructure Deficit (http://www.canadiansailings.ca/?p=3413) and National Research Council Canada (http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science/story/3461).

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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