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Digging a little deeper into the infrastructure

The catchall term for roads and bridges and all that other stuff is a mouthful, but what would we do without it?

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One of the pleasures of riding the Red Line subway between Boston and Cambridge is that moment when the train emerges from its tunnel to cross the Charles River. For a few moments passengers get an impressive skyline view of both cities from the century-old Longfellow Bridge. If the windows of the train are at all clean, the view is usually enough to make me reflect, Hey, this isn't a bad place to live, is it?

For much of the summer, this magical moment was extended somewhat – not, alas, for aesthetic reasons. The Federal Highway Administration had asked that the trains be held to 10 m.p.h. on the bridge until necessary repairs could be made.

The repairs to the Longfellow, the utility trucks out digging up my street, and probably somebody else digging up your street, too, are all indications that infrastructure is hot – or as hot as it's likely to get. It's partly the summer construction season. It's partly the feeling that today's weak economy might benefit from some of the programs introduced during the Depression of the 1930s. (Did I hear someone say "Works Progress Administration"?) And it's partly the slowly dawning realization that what is built must also be maintained.

What would we do without infrastructure, the stuff – streets, roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, gas lines, telephone lines, television cables? Not much. And what would we do without infrastructure, the word? It's a mouthful, but it's a useful mouthful, because it encapsulates all those other elements.

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